Baha'i Library Online

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COLLECTIONSPublished articles, Study Guides
TITLEIntroduction to Abdu'l-Baha's The Secret of Divine Civilization, An
AUTHOR 1Nader Saiedi
TITLE_PARENTConverging Realities
PUB_THISLandegg Academy
ABSTRACT'Abdu'l-Bahá's The Secret of Divine Civilization in the context of the Iranian social and political situation of the day, and comments on its contribution to ongoing debates on certain religious, social, and political debates.
NOTES Originally published at, archived at

Article re-posted here with permission of publisher (notwithstanding the publisher's copyright restrictions).

TAGSIran (documents); Middle East; Reform; Secret of Divine Civilization (book); Social and economic development; Sociology


    1. The Context and Purpose of The Secret of Divine Civilization
            1.1      The Secret of Divine Civilization in the context of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation
            1.2      The Secret of Divine Civilization in the context of nineteenth century Irán
    2. Organization of the Text and Layers of Discourse in The Secret of Divine Civilization
    3. The Politics of Reform: From Patrimonial to Legal Authority
    4. Religion and Modernity: Return to the Past or Rejection of Religion?
    5. Toward a Theory of Development: Romanticism or the Enlightenment?
            5.1      Critique of historicist theory
            5.2     Critique of the Enlightenment's objectivist theory
    6. Global Approach to Development: Nationalism or Internationalism?
    7. Conclusion: 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Concept of Modernity

Although The Secret of Divine Civilization was written in the nineteenth century regarding the question of the modernization of Irán, it offers a novel perspective for social and economic development based upon the vision of a new world order. This article locates 'Abdu'l-Bahá's treatise in the context of both the Iranian social and political situation and the overall message of the Bahá'í Faith. It explicates the organization of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's text and differentiates the four levels of discourse. The first level addresses the debate concerning traditionalist patrimonialism and rationalist bureaucratization. The second debate is oriented to the controversy between religious traditionalism and atheist rationalism. The third is devoted to the historicist as opposed to the objectivist definitions of social and economic development. Finally, the fourth debate concerns the question of nationalism and internationalism. The article concludes with a brief discussion of the concept of modernity in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's vision.


The Secret of Divine Civilization is a masterpiece in social and political theory. Although written in the nineteenth century regarding the question of modernization of Iran, its vision is not outdated. On the contrary, the questions addressed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá's book have become even more urgent and relevant for humanity at the end of the twentieth century. The vision of 'Abdu'l-Bahá offers a novel perspective for a new world order, one which is qualitatively different from all existing models of political theory. Consequently, an adequate reading of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's treatise requires a dynamic perspective which is oriented simultaneously to both the specific conditions of Irán in the second half of nineteenth century, and the problems and problematics confronting humanity at the present time. This is due to the fact that while The Secret of Divine Civilization is written in response to the specific conditions of Iranian society in the nineteenth century, its theoretical vision transcends the boundaries of both Irán and the nineteenth century. It is truly a work for all humanity and all seasons.

This brief introduction of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's historic text will discuss the purpose and the historical context of the writing of The Secret of Civilization, locating 'Abdu'l-Bahá's treatise in the context of both the Iranian social and political situation, and the overall message of the Bahá'í Faith. Next is an explication of the organization of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's treatise, differentiating four levels of discourse in His work. The next four sections will be devoted to those four levels of discourse. The first level addresses the debate concerning traditionalist patrimonialism and rationalist bureaucratization. The second debate is oriented to the controversy between religious traditionalism and atheist rationalism. The third layer is devoted to the historicist as opposed to the objectivist definitions of social and economic development. Finally, the fourth debate addresses the question of nationalism and internationalism. This introduction will be concluded by a brief discussion of the concept of modernity in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's vision.

1. The Context and Purpose of The Secret of Divine Civilization

The Secret of Divine Civilization is one of the early writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and occupies a unique theoretical and historical position among the Bahá'í sacred writings. Unlike the Bahá'í writings in general, The Secret of Divine of Civilization is addressed to the Muslim population of Irán, written as an anonymous Muslim text, devoted to a sociological analysis of the conditions of the socioeconomic development of Iranian society, and aimed at a general theory of development and modernity that transcends and combines the two opposing theories of conservative traditionalism and technocratic rationalism. It argues for a new approach to modernity and rationality that harmonizes science and spiritual values in the context of a historical and international approach to culture and society.

It becomes obvious that The Secret of Divine Civilization must be viewed simultaneously as an expression of the inspired vision of the Bahá'í Faith on the one hand, and Iranian intellectual social and political discourse on the other. What makes this particular text unique is precisely the intersection of these two currents. The inspired character of The Secret of Divine Civilization implies that the message of this text is qualitatively different from secular debates on the issue of social and economic development and that its vision is not limited to the particular situation of nineteenth century Irán. On the other hand it is directly addressing the fundamental questions of modernity and development from an explicitly sociological point of view, offering explicit and specific solutions to the cultural, economic, political, spiritual, and moral chaos of nineteenth century Irán. A similar chaos and confusion is also bewildering our own generation at the end of the twentieth century in all nations of the world.

Since this article concentrates on the context and content of The Secret of Divine Civilization as a sociological and political theory of development and modernity, it is also necessary to make a brief reference at this point to the relation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's text to the overall vision and culture of the Bahá'í Faith.

1.1 The Secret of Divine Civilization in the Context of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation

'Abdu'l-Bahá was the son and successor of the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh. Beginning in 1853, Bahá'u'lláh revealed a new divine message for humanity. He was born in Irán but was banished by the order of Iranian Qajar monarch, Nasiri'd-Din Shah, to the Ottoman Empire. He passed away in exile in 1892. In his writings, Bahá'u'lláh declared that humanity has now reached the age of adolescence and must strive to attain the stage of maturity. This coming of age of humanity will be realized through fundamental spiritual, cultural, economic, and political transformations in the world. Bahá'u'lláh's message was in fact divine guidance for this process of regeneration and reconstruction. For this reason, the vision of the Bahá'í Faith is neither simply a moral guidance devoid of social and institutional relevance, nor simply a sociological or political theory. On the contrary, it represents a holistic and global approach that links spiritual truth to individual life, collective institutions, and an emerging new world order.

Bahá'u'lláh's metaphysics is a metaphysics of love and unity. He affirmed three fundamental, essential unities at different levels of being. First, he proclaimed the absolute unity of divine reality. The unity of divine reality, however, is beyond the capacity of human understanding, even in terms of a conceptual framework. Also, the categories of oneness and plurality are incapable of expressing the unknowable divine unity, but this divine reality is the foundation and ultimate purpose of all beings, including human. In other words, the being of humans is in a sense nothing but a reflection of that divine reality and a longing and love for recognition and attainment of God. The solution of this fundamental antinomy of human existence, Bahá'u'lláh argued, is the revelation of the divine in God's supreme Manifestations in each age. For Bahá'ís, all beings are signs and indications of the divine. The human mind can only understand the realm of the appearance, the realm of manifestations, the realm of phenomena. However, by divine decree there is a mediation between God and humans. This is the realm of the supreme Manifestations of God in whom the invisible becomes visible. These are the prophets of God who appear in each age in accordance with the stages of human development to exemplify the highest perfection of humanity and the actualization of the divine sign, which is latent in all humanity. Therefore, the ultimate meaning and the fulfillment of human destiny are realized through the recognition of the supreme Manifestation of God in each age.

The second level of unity is precisely related to the realm of the Manifestations of God. According to Bahá'u'lláh, all divine messengers and prophets — like Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and Bahá'u'lláh — are in fact one and the same essence. Bahá'u'lláh talked of the unity of all the Manifestations of God and the unity of all religions. He argued that the truth and the purpose of all religions are the same. Divine revelation is one but takes different forms in accordance with the stage of development of human cultures and their specific historical and social needs. The teachings of all religions therefore are equally valid and true. Divine messengers, Bahá'u'lláh told us, are spiritual physicians who prescribe different medicine depending on the specific illness of their patients. All of the medicines are equally necessary for the well-being of humanity. However, these medicines must change in accordance with changes in the illness. It is for this reason that Bahá'u'lláh talked about "progressive revelation" while emphasizing the unity of divine revelation. Similarly, Bahá'u'lláh used the metaphor of the sun and horizons to convey the same idea. The divine reality of all different Manifestations of God is one and the same, like the same sun that appears each time from a different horizon. Therefore, what differentiates Jesus and Buddha is not their essential reality but only their human appearance. They are different horizons from which the same divine reality is shining over the hearts of humanity. Bahá'u'lláh's message therefore initiated a revolution in religious thought and practice. He simultaneously eliminated the causes of religious discord and rejected religious traditionalism, arguing for the thesis of progressive revelation and the renewal of divine teaching corresponding to the stage of development of human culture. We have here a religious outlook that is both a metaphysics of love and a metaphysics of sociocultural progress and advancement.

Following the two previous levels of unity, Bahá'u'lláh also spoke of the unity of humankind. The unity of humankind is a metaphysical and essential reality and truth. It means that all humans are endowed with the reflection of divine attributes in their beings. The human soul is a mirror of divine attributes. For that reason, humanity is in fact a mirror of divine unity and hence, a sacred reality. The task of humanity, therefore, is to purify the mirror of their existence to allow the divine unity to become visible at the individual, social, cultural, economic, political, and intellectual levels of human reality. In other words, the realization of the divine in human life is not conditioned on flight from social and cultural life and avoidance of participation in the advancement of human civilization. On the contrary, the divine essence of humanity can only be realized through history, human civilization, and social progress. Therefore, the spiritual challenge of humanity is to create moral, spiritual, social, economic, and political cultures and institutions that make it possible for the latent sacred unity of humankind to be realized in people's actual life and in the midst of the diversity of individuals and cultures. This unity in diversity is itself a historical process. To the present, the unity of humanity had been expressed only in limited and particularistic ways. National unity, thus, has been the ultimate achievement of human unity. However, Bahá'u'lláh teaches us, it is now the historic mission of humanity to achieve the oneness of humankind in a global stage and in a higher form of culture and institutions to reflect the equality and unity of all human beings. Bahá'u'lláh's concept of the coming of age of humankind is precisely this same process of the manifestation of love and unity at a global institutional level.

As we can see, the entire structure of Bahá'í belief is one of unity in diversity aimed at the realization of the oneness of humankind. Bahá'u'lláh's vision of this emerging global order is captured in his call for a "new world order." 'Abdu'l-Bahá's analysis of modernity and development is a sociological and political extension of this same concept. For that reason, it is useful to look briefly at the meaning of this term. Of course, the details of Bahá'u'lláh's concept of the new world order is beyond the scope of this short introduction. In fact the entire teachings and principles of the Bahá'í Faith are oriented toward this complex concept. However, it is necessary to explicate the philosophical and sociological premises underlying His terminology. Indeed, a brief glimpse at the terms of this concept reveals the fundamental characteristics of Bahá'í social theory. At the same time, such an analysis makes clear that the Bahá'í concept of a new world order is qualitatively different from the recent use of the same term in the political writings of some contemporary politicians and writers.

The concept of the new world order is composed of three terms, each of which is indispensable for understanding the Bahá'í concept of history, culture, and society. The first term is order. Bahá'u'lláh has frequently written on the social and spiritual conditions of order. As we will see, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also deals with the question of order in The Secret of Divine Civilization explicitly. The question of order is indeed the fundamental question of political and social theory. The reason for this is not difficult to understand. The mere fact of social life and collective organization requires some sort of order regulating the behavior of the individuals in society. No society is possible without order, or to put it differently, order is a fundamental condition for the possibility of society. For this reason, the question of order was precisely the first systematic question of modern Western political theory. Modern political theory is associated with Thomas Hobbes' political writings during the seventeenth century. The question posed by Hobbes is normally called the Hobbesian problem of order. In his famous book Leviathan, Hobbes investigated the basis of order in society. According to Hobbes, human beings are naturally selfish, aggressive, and concerned with the pursuit of their interests (Hobbes, 1588-1679/1962). Therefore, Hobbes argued, in the state of nature humans will use any means to get what they want, and they will not refrain from stealing or murder. Consequently in the state of nature there can be no order. There would be perpetual war of some against everyone else. Such a life is insecure, brutish, and short lived.

Hobbes' solution to the problem of order is again rooted in his definition of human nature. Humans are, for Hobbes, selfish and yet rational. By the term rational Hobbes means that people will try to maximize their pleasure and minimize their costs. In other words, rational people will follow their selfish interests efficiently and effectively. Since humans are rational, they understand that the state of nature is harmful to them and contradicts their interests. Therefore, because of their selfishness humans decided to engage in a social contract in order to create laws and political institutions so that the fear of punishment by a strong and dictatorial state would prevent selfish individuals from committing criminal acts. Order, therefore, is the product of the fear of punishment and coercion. Hobbesian theory inspired the philosophy of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Although the philosophers of the Enlightenment disagreed with the dictatorial form of a Hobbesian state, they maintained and affirmed the basic principles of his theory of order. Order in other words was believed to be based upon a combination of rational selfishness of humans and their fear of legal punishment. The inadequacy of this rationalistic conception of order became increasingly evident in nineteenth-century sociology and political theory. Modern social and political theory not only affirmed the normative and symbolic character of human action and motivation but also reconceptualized the relation of individuals in society in terms of new ideas like solidarity, common bond, common religion, shared values, shared culture, legitimacy, and normative integration. The Hobbesian solution to the problem of order was not sufficient.

Bahá'u'lláh's concept of order should be understood in terms of this theoretical problem. In His writings, Bahá'u'lláh emphasized that a system of reward and punishment is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the maintenance of order in society. According to Bahá'u'lláh, order requires not only reward and punishment but also internalized moral values, religious belief, and love of humanity. For that reason, Bahá'u'lláh's analysis of the concept of order was directly opposed to the Western Enlightenment's concept of order. For the latter, human reason and selfish orientation guarantee social order. Therefore, there is no need for religion and divine guidance in human life. In other words, the Enlightenment's theory of order was a total rejection of religion and spiritual values. Bahá'u'lláh, conversely, conceives of the question of order as a proof for the need for religion and divine revelation in human history. For instance Bahá'u'lláh wrote:

   In formulating the principles and laws a part hath been devoted to penalties which form an effective instrument for the security and protection of men. However, dread of the penalties maketh people desist only outwardly from committing vile and contemptible deeds, while that which guardeth and restraineth man both outwardly and inwardly hath been and still is the fear of God. It is man's true protector and his spiritual guardian.  (Bahá'u'lláh, 1978, p. 93) Elsewhere he wrote: In truth, religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world, for the fear of God impelleth man to hold fast to that which is good, and shun all evil. Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine.  (p. 125) In His other writings, Bahá'u'lláh calls on His believers to observe divine law and commandments because of their love for divine beauty. Now we can see the meaning of the term order in the concept of a new world order. Bahá'u'lláh is arguing that human social order must be based upon not only scientific and instrumental rationality but also upon moral principles and divine guidance.

However, Bahá'u'lláh is not content with simply a theory of order. His concept of order is always accompanied by another equally important concept. He talks about a new order. This other term affirms Bahá'u'lláh's concept of historical change and progress. The philosophers of the Enlightenment attacked traditional religious theories of order because they revolted against traditionalism. In traditional religious discussion of order, it was argued that human social order should remain unchangeable because of the unchangeable will of God. In other words, the religious leaders affirmed the need for religion in order to protect past traditions and oppose historical dynamics. Bahá'u'lláh's concept of a new world order is exactly the opposite. Bahá'u'lláh argued that religion should be a cause of spiritual and social advancement and the progress of humanity. In Bahá'u'lláh's view, every age has its own problems and needs, and, therefore, religious teachings should also be renewed in each new stage of human cultural advancement. The will of God is in accordance with this dynamic advancement of the human journey toward an ever increasing unity and progress. That is why Bahá'u'lláh spoke of progressive revelation. Social order should be guided by religious teachings and divine guidance, but the teachings of religion should itself be renewed by a new revelation, which would correspond to the conditions and needs of humanity in its new stage of development. In other words, Bahá'u'lláh combines order and progress in His spiritual/political theory. Religion becomes a dynamic force for the advancement of humanity and not a reactionary force against progressive civilization. He wrote:

   The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.
   We can well perceive how the whole human race is encompassed with great, with incalculable afflictions. We see it languishing on its bed of sickness, sore-tried and disillusioned. They that are intoxicated by self-conceit have interposed themselves between it and the Divine and infallible Physician. Witness how they have entangled all men, themselves included, in the mesh of their devices. They can neither discover the cause of the disease, nor have they any knowledge of the remedy. They have conceived the straight to be crooked, and have imagined their friend an enemy.
   Incline your ears to the sweet melody of this Prisoner. Arise, and lift up your voices, that haply they that are fast asleep may be awakened. Say: O ye who are as dead! The Hand of Divine bounty proffereth unto you the Water of Life. Hasten and drink your fill. Whoso hath been re-born in this Day, shall never die; whoso remaineth dead, shall never live.  (1976, p. 213)
In the language of social theory, Bahá'u'lláh's dynamic and historical approach to social reality is usually designated by the term historical consciousness. Therefore, the adjective new in the concept of a new world order is in fact an affirmation of the historical consciousness.

However, Bahá'u'lláh's vision is more clearly understandable when we pay attention to the third term of His new world order. In fact, this third term follows from Bahá'u'lláh's historical consciousness. Since society and culture are dynamic phenomena, and because the form of spirituality, culture, and social order should correspond with the stage of development of humanity, the present social order must assume a global character. That is why Bahá'u'lláh affirms a new world order. The basic premise of Bahá'u'lláh's concept is that any solution for the major problems confronting humanity at the present time is dependent on the adoption of a global approach and an international method of problem solving. In other words, humanity now has arrived at a new stage in which nationalistic and militaristic solutions are inadequate for solving the fundamental challenges of the human race in the modern world. Issues like environmental pollution, world hunger, nuclear war, and global inequality of opportunities for education, occupation, income, and access to resources can only be resolved if humanity sees itself as members of one family and an interdependent organic unity. It is for these reasons that Bahá'u'lláh has always declared the realization of the oneness of humanity as the ultimate goal of his revelation. He wrote:

The evidences of discord and malice are apparent everywhere, though all were made for harmony and union. The Great Being saith: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.  (1978, p. 164) Now it is possible to have a general sense of Bahá'u'lláh's vision. He simultaneously affirms three principles for the regeneration of a just and advancing social order. First, material culture and spiritual culture should be harmonized. Second, both material and spiritual aspects of culture should be dynamic and progressive, corresponding with the stage of human development and the concrete needs of humanity at each stage of its civilization. Third, at the present time both spiritual and material cultures must assume a global approach for solving the emerging problems of humanity. Indeed, the combination of these three principles provides us with an outline of Bahá'u'lláh's message.

Bahá'u'lláh passed away in 1892. Since His religion was oriented to love and unity, He made a covenant with His believers so that the question of leadership of his Faith would not become a cause of discord and schism. Therefore, He explicitly appointed His son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, as His successor and authorized interpreter of His writings. The Secret of Divine Civilization is one of the early writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá written at the order of Bahá'u'lláh, seventeen years before the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh. An adequate understanding of The Secret of Divine Civilization requires an extensive analysis of the totality of the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. While 'Abdu'l-Bahá's other writings cannot be discussed in this brief introduction, it is necessary to note his warnings to the world during his trip to the West in the years between 1911 and 1913. At a time that America was torn by racial injustice and discrimination, and Europe was moving towards a devastating world war due to ethnic and nationalistic prejudices, 'Abdu'l-Bahá called for racial unity and elimination of all prejudices. He called for the equal rights of men and women, and warned humanity that justice, peace, and human advancement is dependent on attaining harmony and equal rights for men and women. At a time that education was a privilege of a rich minority, 'Abdu'l-Bahá called for universal and obligatory education of all children of the world. At a time of confusion between unbridled competitive capitalism and violent labor movements, 'Abdu'l-Bahá called for social justice and elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty. Criticizing both religious traditionalists and arrogant atheists, he affirmed the harmony of religion, science, and reason, and declared that religion should be a cause of unity and concord, not hatred and discord. He called for independent investigation of truth by all humans and affirmed the need for world peace and oneness of humanity as the most urgent questions confronting humanity. He called for unity in diversity and argued for a universal auxiliary language to promote communication, understanding, and unity of the world. Needless to say, these ideas were expressed by Bahá'u'lláh and elaborated and interpreted by 'Abdu'l-Bahá.

The Secret of Divine Civilization is inspired by the same principles and vision of Bahá'u'lláh. However, 'Abdu'l-Bahá applies these principles in His text through an analysis of the fundamental questions of modernity and socioeconomic development. The Secret of Divine Civilization was written in 1875. The date of writing is explicitly mentioned in the text itself. He writes:

For example at this writing, in the year 1292 A.H.[1875] they have invented a new rifle in Germany and a bronze cannon in Austria...   ('Abdu'l-Bahá, 1990, p. 62)
It is important to know that it was Bahá'u'lláh who asked His son to write this treatise. In one of His tablets, Bahá'u'lláh mentions that He asked 'Abdu'l-Bahá to write some pages on the means and the cause of development and underdevelopment of the world in order to reduce the prejudices of the dogmatic conservatives (Muhammad 'Ali Fayzi, 1971). In reading The Secret of Divine Civilization one notes the interesting apparent paradox that Bahá'u'lláh called for an explication of the conditions for development of the world, whereas apparently 'Abdu'l-Bahá's book is oriented toward the question of the socioeconomic development of Irán. However, there is no contradiction here. On the contrary, this apparent paradox is the key for understanding 'Abdu'l-Bahá's concepts of modernity and development that  will be discussed later. Before discussing the organization and the content of The Secret of Divine Civilization, we should also locate 'Abdu'l-Bahá's text in the sociopolitical situation of Irán in the second half of the nineteenth century.

1.2 The Secret of Divine Civilization in the Context of Nineteenth-Century Irán

Nineteenth-century Irán, like most other parts of the world, was a century of fundamental social, political, and cultural transformations. During this century, Irán was ruled by Qajar kings, and for most of the second half of the century the Qajar king Nasiri'd-Din Shah was the reigning monarch. The most important development of this century was the growing recognition by Iranians of the emergence of a new international balance of power, and the declining and inferior position of Irán in economic, political, and military affairs. The balance of power in military, political, technological, economic, and cultural creativity, and innovation had changed in favor of the Europeans and against the Islamic societies including Irán. A thousand years earlier, with the emergence of Islám, a vast Islamic empire came into existence and initiated cultural creativity, technological invention, economic prosperity, and military might. Medieval Islamic culture was equal or superior to Western culture until the fifteenth century. After centuries of cultural, economic, military, and technological victory and progress, Islamic empires forgot the spirit of Islam and became obsessed with a literalistic, conservative, and traditionalistic approach to religion and society. This conservative orientation discouraged the spirit of individual autonomy, cultural creativity, and scientific innovation. Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, the old Islamic cultural superiority was replaced with social and cultural stagnation. At the same time, religious, scientific, democratic, industrial, and cultural reforms and revolutions of the West created powerful European states, which, influenced by their new nationalistic and capitalistic institutions, initiated a process of global conquest and colonialism.

While the Ottoman Empire had recognized the need for sociopolitical reform in the eighteenth century, Iranian political and religious leaders ignored the revolutionary developments in the world. It was only after the two successive defeats in war with neighboring Russia and the signing of the humiliating treatise of Gulistan (1813) and Turkaman Chai (1828), and the later defeat by England in Herat (1856) that the questions of modernity and reform became relevant issues in Iranian political and ideological discourse. None of the attempts at institutional reform, however, were successful. This was due to both internal and external reasons. Internally, lack of a clear vision of cultural reform and rationalization was one of the causes of failure in the reform attempts. A call for reform was prevalent among secular Iranian intellectuals in the second half of the nineteenth century, but these reforms usually resulted in superficial changes and lacked holistic and historical orientation. The other cause for the failure of reform initiatives was the vehement opposition of the conservative Muslim clergy ('ulamá) to the culture of modernity and institutional rationalization. Rejecting the spirit of modernity, the conservative 'ulamá adopted a traditionalistic reaction against structural and cultural transformations occurring in the world. They insisted that modernity is opposed to the dictates of Islám. Unfortunately, the power of the 'ulamá was increasing in this period, and the clergy exerted tremendous political and cultural power. Unable to compete with modern production, transportation, and finance methods of the West, a process of deindustrialization took place in nineteenth-century Irán. Traditional handicraft industry declined, and the Iranian economy became heavily dependent on imports from the West. In general, the nineteenth century was a century of economic decline for Irán.

Two other internal causes for the failure of reform attempts are first, the pervasive dominance of corruption among Qajar kings and princes, bureaucratic officials, and religious authorities paralyzed the reform process. Second, the Bábi religious movement, which offered a new cultural and spiritual vision for society, was brutally persecuted by both Qajar state and conservative religious 'ulama. The Bábi movement heralded the advent of Bahá'u'lláh. The Báb was executed in 1850 in Iran.

However, internal cultural stagnation was not the only cause of the failure of the reform policies. The coupling of aggressive nationalism and relentless capitalism created imperialist Western states that were engaged in oppressive and militaristic foreign policies which undermined sustainable socioeconomic development and cultural creativity in the rest of the world. In fact, the strategic significance of Iran led to significant rivalry among foreign forces to expand their influence in the country.

'Abdu'l-Bahá's The Secret of Divine Civilization provided a comprehensive model of institutional and cultural rationalization. It analyzed the dynamics of development and underdevelopment in the light of nineteenth-century Iranian society. His vision, however, was qualitatively unique because it was inspired by Bahá'u'lláh's concept of a new world order.

2. Organization of the Text and Layers of Discourse in The Secret of Divine Civilization

It is difficult to translate the title of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's text in any language because of the subtle and beautiful play of the words in the title. The literal translation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's text is "The Divine Secrets Concerning the Causes of Civilization" (Asraru'l-Qaybiyya li-Asbabi'l-Madaniyyah). However, this translation is not adequate. The term Qaybyya, which is translated as divine, has in fact a double meaning that is masterfully used by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The first meaning of the term Qaybiyya refers to the anonymity of the author of the text. It was prevalent in nineteenth-century Iranian literature to write works of social and political criticism anonymously without revealing the identity of the author. The author of the text remained invisible. For instance, the first and the most famous book calling for reform of Iranian administration was written in 1858 by the Iranian secular intellectual Malkum Khan, who called his book Kitabchiy-i-Ghaybiyyah, meaning the anonymous booklet. However, the term Ghaybiyyah, which literally means invisible, implies a second meaning as well. Referring to the realm of the invisible divine reality, Ghaybiyyah is also equivalent with the term divine. For Malkum Khan, the term Ghaybiyyah implied only anonymity. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, however, was not just an ordinary intellectual. His vision was inspired by the revelation of His father, and therefore 'Abdu'l-Bahá's text was inspired by divine guidance. Now we can see the double meaning of the term Ghaybiyyah in the title of the book. On the one hand, 'Abdu'l-Bahá does not reveal the identity of the author of the text, and on the other hand He does reveal it by emphasizing the divine source of his inspiration. The English common translation of the text, namely The Secret of Divine Civilization, is a good approximation for the original complex title of the work.

In the early pages of The Secret of Divine Civilization 'Abdu'l-Bahá explains the reasons for both writing the book and the anonymity of the author. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's text is addressed to the king, people, clergy, officials, and secular intellectuals of Irán. He tries to move all segments of Iranian society towards a new vision of modernity, institutional reform, and sociocultural rationalization. He argues that He is writing the book because the king of Irán (Nasiri'd-Din Sháh) has recently expressed interest in social and political modernization of Iranian society. 'Abdu'l-Bahá points out that His previous silence on the issue was due to the fact that the king had not been seriously concerned with the development and progress of Irán. Now that the king has defended the policy of cultural reform and rationalization, 'Abdu'l-Bahá argues, it is His moral duty to discuss the question of advancement and development of Irán. He writes:

Not until now had we seen a monarch, holding in his capable hands the reins of affairs, and on whose high resolve the welfare of all his subjects depends, exerting as it would befit him, like a benevolent father, his efforts toward the training and cultivation of his people, seeking to insure their well-being and peace of mind, and exhibiting due concern for their interests; this Servant and those like Him have therefore remained silent. Now, however, it is clear to the discerning that the Sháh has of his own accord determined to establish a just government and to secure the progress of all his subjects. His honorable intention has consequently evoked this present statement.  (p. 11) Explaining the anonymous character of his writing, 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes: As is clear to the discerning, the writer has for this reason felt it necessary to put down, for the sake of God alone and as a tribute to this high endeavor, a brief statement on certain urgent questions. To demonstrate that His one purpose is to promote the general welfare, He has withheld His name. Since He believes that guidance toward righteousness is in itself a righteous act, He offers these few words of counsel to His country's sons, words spoken for God's sake alone and in the spirit of a faithful friend. Our Lord, Who knows all things, bears witness that this servant seeks nothing but what is right and good; for He, a wanderer in the desert of God's love, has come into a realm where the hand of denial or assent, of praise or blame, can touch Him not.  (pp. 5-6) In reading the above statement, one can see a subtle reference to the fact that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was an Iranian in exile, who continued to care about Iranians and whose message was inspired by spiritual values, not political interests.

Although in its Persian edition there is no apparent division of The Secret of Divine Civilization into different chapters, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's tablet can be divided into five main chapters. In his introductory chapter (1-12), 'Abdu'l-Bahá contrasts the past glory of Irán with its current state of backwardness, and calls for institutional and cultural rationalization and modernization in all dimensions of Iranian society. After emphasizing the need for socioeconomic rationalization, 'Abdu'l-Bahá concludes the first chapter by listing four prevalent objections against reform and modernization. He writes:

Some say that these are newfangled methods and foreign isms, quite unrelated to the present needs and the time-honored customs of Persia. Others...tell...that these modern methods are the practices of heathen peoples, and are contrary to the venerated canons of true faith.... One group insists that such reforms should go forward with great deliberation, step by step, haste being inadmissible. Another maintains that only such measures should be adopted as the Persians themselves devise.... Every faction, in short, follows its own particular illusion.  (p. 12) The next four chapters of The Secret of Divine Civilization are devoted to analysis and refutation of these four objections. Therefore, the second chapter (12-25) rejects the thesis that modernity is opposed to the spirit and conditions of Iranian society and that Iranians should only follow their traditions. 'Abdu'l-Bahá argues that there are some universal preconditions of modernity and cultural rationalization which are indispensable to any process of advancement in the current stage of sociohistorical development of the world. In the third chapter (25 - 107), 'Abdu'l-Bahá rejects the conservative assertion of the traditionalist 'ulama who equated modernity with atheism, heresy, and rejection of Islám. 'Abdu'l-Bahá argues that true Islám is in fact compatible with modernity and that the spirit of Islám requires historical adaptability and cultural innovation. This chapter is the longest part of the text because of the theoretical and political significance of the question. After rejecting the clerical rejection of modernity, 'Abdu'l-Bahá criticizes secular intellectuals' fascination with the West, and attacks Western militarism, materialism, and the neglect of spiritual values. 'Abdu'l-Bahá criticizes philosophy of the Enlightenment's concept of modernity at this point. The fourth chapter (107 - 112) rejects the incremental approach to rationalization while it affirms the principle of cultural gradualism and wisdom. Finally, the last chapter responds to the fourth objection, which is another variant of the first one.

Throughout the text, 'Abdu'l-Bahá offers a new vision of modernity and development that is quite different from the prevalent theories of modernity and development both in tenth-century Irán and twentieth-century social and political theory. The next sections of this introduction will examine the substantive ideas of The Secret of Divine Civilization in more detail, but a glimpse of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's vision is visible even in the opening page of the book. From the first paragraph, it is evident that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's concept of modernity is defined in terms of the application of reason to sociocultural life:

Praise and thanksgiving be unto Providence that out of all the realties in existence He has chosen the reality of man and honored it with intellect (danish) and wisdom (hush), the two most luminous lights in either world. Through the agency of this great endowment, He has in every epoch cast on the mirror of creation new and wonderful configurations.  (p.1) 'Abdu'l-Bahá's distinction between danish and wisdom is not accidental. For Him, an adequate process of rationalization must be aimed at not only instrumental and scientific rationalization (danish) but also moral and practical rationalization (hush). For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, reason is precisely the combination and harmony of the two distinct processes of rationalization. That is why He immediately links his concept of reason with divine intellect or revelation:
This supreme emblem of God stands first in the order of creation and first in rank, taking precedence over all created things. Witness to it is the Holy Tradition, "Before all else, God created the mind."  (p.1)

An adequate discussion of the term "reason" mentioned in the Islamic holy tradition is beyond the scope of this introduction. Suffice it to say that this reason as the first creation of God is nothing but the divine primal Will, which is identical with the essence of the Divine Manifestation of God. In other words, by "reason" here is meant not only scientific knowledge but divine revelation as well. The message of 'Abdu'l-Bahá is already clear: true modernity requires not only scientific, technological, and instrumental rationalization but spiritual, cultural, and moral rationalization as well.

To understand the substantive content of The Secret of Divine Civilization, we should explicate four different layers of discourse present in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's work. These four levels are not formally distinguished from each other because of complex interrelations among the four levels. However, the reader should distinguish them because they are integral to the entire text. It should be noted that these four layers of discourse are independent from the four objections against modernity which 'Abdu'l-Bahá evaluates. The four levels are the key for understanding 'Abdu'l-Bahá's concept of modernity and development. They deal with different debates and questions. Looking at these different debates one can see a progressive movement towards abstraction, generalization, and globalization. It becomes evident that while The Secret of Divine Civilization is related to specific questions of development in the second half of the nineteenth century, its message is far more general and universal.

The first layer of discourse is directly related to the specific political and cultural developments in the decade of the 1870's. The year 1875, the year of the writing of The Secret of Divine Civilization, was the midpoint in the most important decade for attempting political and social reform  in nineteenth-century Irán. During this decade, there was a battle between two opposite forces in terms of the future direction of Irán's social, economic, and political structures. The advocates of reform were led by Husayn Khan (Mushiru'd-Dawlih) who called for a centralized legal and bureaucratic state. The opponents of reform were defending the semi-feudal patrimonial privileges of big landlords who were mostly Qajar princes and conservative religious leaders. The king of Irán, Nasiri'd-Din Shah, was ambivalent between the two groups. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's The Secret of Divine Civilization is partly an attempt to address this crucial political development of the decade. In this sense, one can define the first level of discourse in terms of the debate between the two theories of patrimonial traditionalism and bureaucratic rationalism.

The second layer of discourse addressed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá's work is related to the prevalent debate between secular intellectuals and traditionalist conservative 'ulamá. The fundamental question here was concerned with the relation of Islám to society, and the relation of religion to modernity and development. For secular intellectuals, the development of Irán required rejection of Islám and adoption of a rationalistic atheistic outlook. For conservative 'ulamá, rejection of modernity and return to original Islám was the only solution to Irán's problems.

The third layer of discourse, and one of the most important ones, is related to the definition and nature of the concept of development. Here we are dealing with a dilemma which is faced by almost all parts of the world in our own time as well. The two sides of this debate can be called traditionalist/historicist and rationalist/objectivist theories of development. The question is whether it is possible to define development in an objective and universal manner. On the one hand, advocates of traditionalist historicism maintained that development is a culturally specific phenomenon and that it should be only defined through each society's internal customs and traditions. For rationalist objectivists, on the other hand, development implies a universal and objective definition that can be equally applied to all societies.

Finally, the fourth level of discourse in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's The Secret of Divine Civilization is oriented to a question that was not seriously debated in nineteenth-century Irán or in any other part of the world. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's analysis is here a pioneering one and its relevance is becoming increasingly more visible for humanity at the end of twentieth century. The question here is the relation of development with nationalism and internationalism. Does true development require the emergence of a just and global-oriented international context, or are the nationalistic institutions and politics of national exclusion, domination, and rivalry adequate for authentic development of humanity? In 1875, the exclusive supremacy of the nationalistic model of development was the premise of all development debates. However, 'Abdu'l-Bahá rejects that premise and addresses, among others, questions of world peace and international cooperation as imperatives for advancement and development of all humanity in the foreseeable future.

Even though these four levels of discourse are interrelated, for the sake of historical and analytical clarity they are discussed separately in the following sections.

3. The Politics of Reform: From Patrimonial to Legal Authority

To understand the historical context of the writing of The Secret of Divine Civilization we must pay close attention to the reform movements in the decade of the 1870s in Irán. After a brief period of attempts at reform in the early years of Nasiri'd-Din Shah's rule by the prime minister Amir Kabir, the politics of reform and modernization were put aside and discontinued. The situation did not change until 1871 when Husayn Khan was appointed by Nasiri'd-Din Shah as the minister of justice. This appointment implied some interest in reform on the part of the Shah. Husayn Khan was a relatively enlightened man who was exposed to modern ideas during his ambassadorial post in the Ottoman Court of Istanbul. Prior to assumption of his ministerial position, Husayn Khan had spent twelve years in Istanbul. At that time, cosmopolitan Istanbul was one of the most significant centers of cultural and political criticism and a place for dissemination and debate of Western ideas. The ideals of the French Revolution and the ideas of the Enlightenment philosophy were influential within Istanbul intellectual circles. In addition, Husayn Khan was closely familiar with the Ottoman policies of legal and administrative reform called Tanzimat. For all these reasons, Husayn Khan had become a serious advocate of reform who continuously encouraged Nasiri'd-Din Sháh to initiate reform policies. During the 1860s, Russia's activities in Central Asia increased, annexing additional parts of the region. Furthermore, Iran's economy continued to decline. The commercial significance of the Persian Gulf declined and deindustrialization increased. In this situation Qajar princes levied additional taxes on land and caused increasing poverty among the population. During his 1869 trip to Shi'ih holy places in Iraq, the Sháh observed the widespread poverty of different regions of Irán.

All these factors encouraged the Sháh to appoint Husayn Khan to ministerial political positions, enabling him to initiate reform policies. In 1872, Nasiri'd-Din Sháh named Husayn Khan as his prime minister, but Husayn Khan's concessions to British investors became a pretext to mobilize effective opposition against him by the joint forces of conservative 'ulamá and Qajar princes. Therefore, in 1873, the Sháh asked for his resignation. However, Husayn Khan was appointed as the minister of defense, and he continued to implement his reforms throughout the decade. Finally, he was relieved of all political posts in 1880 and died in the next year. The policy of reform was effectively terminated, and the Sháh returned to his dictatorial and patrimonial policies (Alagar, 1969).

During his various ministerial posts, Husayn Khan tried to carry out varieties of social and political reforms. These can be divided into judicial, military, political, economic, and cultural reforms. In judicial affairs, he tried to limit the arbitrary judicial power of the local landlords, governors, and 'ulama over their subjects. The governors were normally Qajar princes who, together with 'ulama, had unlimited legal and judicial power over the people. The arbitrary prosecution, sentencing, and punishment of the peasants by their landlords were some of the most common sources of oppression and social injustice. This included the execution of their subjects. Husayn Khan tried to confine the judicial power to the ministry of justice and the official representatives of the ministry. He also made any capital punishment dependent on the approval of the headquarters of the justice ministry. In military institutions he tried to make the military authority more impersonal and bureaucratic. Fighting corruption and financial abuse was one of his primary concerns. For that reason, he emphasized creation of better accounting systems and collection of statistics. He also tried to make the military more efficient by organizing weapons production and implementation of a new code of rules concerning military service. He attempted to decrease the arbitrary power of the higher officers, normally Qajar princes, over the soldiers, and created some military colleges.

In political affairs, Husayn Khan emphasized political centralization at the expense of the arbitrary power of the Qajar governors and 'ulamá. He created a cabinet system, which consisted of nine ministers and a prime minister. The functions and authority of each minister were defined more clearly, and the prime minister became the mediator between the king and the ministers. This also implied decreasing authority of the Shah and increasing power of the prime minister. Husayn Khan tried to limit the salaries of the governors and ministers through adoption of formal rules and a fight against corruption in political positions.

In the economic realm, Husayn Khan attempted a tax reform by limiting the authority of the governors, landlords, and 'ulama in taxing their subjects, and by reforming the ministry of finance through better accounting systems and collection of statistics, as in the military reform. He also tried to create an infrastructure for a modern economy by construction of roads and railroads. Given his suspicion of Russia and lack of budget resources, he gave the railroad concession to a British company.

Finally, Husayn Khan tried to initiate some cultural reforms as well. He wanted to expose the Shah to the modern developments in the West. Consequently, he encouraged Nasiri'd-Din Sháh to travel to Europe so that he would note the need for reform in Irán. In 1873, the Sháh made his first trip to Europe. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's The Secret of Divine Civilization was written between the Sháh's first and second trip to the West. Husayn Khan expanded and created modern educational colleges and created new weekly papers. He constructed several important buildings, streets, and mosques, and installed lights in Tehran's streets (Nashat, 1981).

The reform attempts of the 1870s did not continue and were not effective. Nasiri'd-Din Sháh himself was not pleased with the limits on his own dictatorial power, but it was the united opposition of the Qajar princes and conservative religious leaders which made the reform initiatives condemned to failure from the beginning. The Qajar princes and the 'ulamá were the main authorities in the semi-feudal patrimonial system of authority in Irán, and they resented any attempt at formalization or centralization of their judicial, political, and financial powers. The 'ulamá were particularly unhappy with the codification and centralization of the judicial and educational systems. That meant effective limitation of the authority of religious leaders in legal jurisdiction, education, and taxation. The construction of railroads was also vehemently opposed by the 'ulamá since it opened contact with the infidel West.

We can now understand the alternative political directions of the two opposing groups in more technical language. Max Weber (1864-1920), the prominent German sociologist, has explicated the sociological terminology for alternative forms of authority. According to Weber, authority can be either charismatic, traditional, or bureaucratic. Charismatic authority is based upon the belief of the people that the leader is endowed with extraordinary characteristics. In Weber's view, Prophets of God are the best historical examples of charismatic authority with the word of the charismatic figure being the sole criterion of law by itself. However, Weber states, this charismatic authority is normally unstable and is soon replaced by traditional authority. Most of human history is the history of traditional authority. Traditional authority, which maintains the legitimacy of blind imitation of past traditions, is itself divided into patriarchal and patrimonial types of authority. Patriarchal authority is a family type of authority. The father is the leader, and he has no staff or officials. The leader is not dissociated from the subjects. In patrimonial authority, however, the leader is dissociated from his subjects and the entire group is ruled as the personal possession of the ruling family. It is normally the relatives of the ruler who have arbitrary power over different parts of the country. Usually, these relatives are the governors and the generals of the local armies who finance themselves through their feudal rights of taxation over the peasants. Opposed to both types of traditional authority is the bureaucratic authority in which authority becomes impersonal, based upon formal and universal rules and laws, and allocation of offices is determined in terms of technical knowledge and qualifications, not personal characteristics or connections, of the individuals. Max Weber calls this bureaucratic form of authority legal-rational (Weber, 1968).

'Abdu'l-Bahá's The Secret of Divine Civilization is  related directly to these important developments in the 1870s. His basic message is a refutation of the traditionalist forces and their patrimonial system of authority. He supports the spirit of reform while explicating its limitations. While His criticism of the patrimonial system is clearly explicit, his critique of the ideals of the reform camp is more subtle. The main weakness of the reform attempt was its lack of a clear vision of development. That is precisely what is offered in The Secret of Divine Civilization. At the same time, while 'Abdu'l-Bahá defends a legal-rational type of political and administrative authority, he does not believe in the centralization of bureaucratic power as attempted by the reform party. 'Abdu'l-Bahá makes it clear that He is categorically opposed to the patrimonial system with its arbitrary and undemocratic power in the hands of the local governors and landlords. However, He equally opposes undemocratic forms of centralized power. As we will see in the next sections, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's vision of modernity is both democratic and decentralized. The democratic element was absent from Husayn Khan's policies and ideological framework. 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1875, and Bahá'u'lláh much earlier, were the first Iranians to raise the call for parliamentary democracy for Irán. We will discuss this issue later.

'Abdu'l-Bahá did not simply emphasize parliamentary democracy.  He also called for a decentralized democratic ideal. This issue will be more evident in Section 6 below, when we discuss the fourth layer of discourse in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's The Secret of Divine Civilization. For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, contrary to the ideology of the Iranian reformists,  nationalistic centralization is not adequate for the challenge of development at this stage of social development. His vision aims at a political and economic system in which power is simultaneously more decentralized and more global. There is hardly an adequate term in the language of political theory for a creative outlook of this scope. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's vision is discussed more clearly in His other writings where He talks about unity in diversity in the context of the principle of the oneness of humankind.

4. Religion and Modernity: Return to the Past or Rejection of Religion?

In the first half of the nineteenth century there is hardly a trace of innovative cultural, social, and political ideas in Iranian intellectual circles. The only exception to this rule are the heretical religious movements that revolutionized Iranian society, transformed archaic traditions, and shook the power structures of both the Qajar dynasty and the conservative religious establishment. The most significant expression of this new religious orientation was the Bábí movement. 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi, commonly called the Báb, revealed his spiritual mission in Shiráz in the year 1844. He vehemently rejected the existing political and religious hierarchy and questioned the legitimacy of any traditional form of authority. His authority was purely a charismatic one rooted in his claim to be the Manifestation of God for humanity. However, he did not transform his charismatic authority into a rational, codified, and administrative form of a new spiritual and social order. On the contrary, he announced the imminent advent of a new Manifestation of God who would create a new world order. Bahá'u'lláh, the fulfillment of the Báb's prophecy, revealed specific and clear teachings for the emergence and construction of a new spiritual and global order. The followers of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh were brutally persecuted in Irán. In 1852 - 53, thousands of Bábís were martyred by the order of the Qajar king and the 'ulamá.

The widespread and heroic expression of faith by the followers of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, and the effective critique of traditional and ossified ideas by the new spiritual movement shook the political and ideological power structure of Iranian society. It is mostly due to the shock and inspiration of this movement that new social and political ideas began to emerge in the second half of nineteenth-century Irán. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's The Secret of Divine Civilization should also be understood as a participant in this general intellectual debate that was going on in the second half of the nineteenth century. The dominant question was the relation of modernity to Islám. Some of the atheist participants in these debates were afraid to express their ideas explicitly and, therefore, usually presented their ideas in a way that would not formally oppose Islám. Aside from these tactical methods, we can distinguish two clear, opposite positions in these debates. For the secular intellectuals, the backwardness of Irán was due to the Islamic culture and beliefs of the Iranians. They argued that Western societies could modernize and develop because they had effectively put religious superstitions aside and attacked religious beliefs. The French philosophy of the Enlightenment was the ideal model for these Iranian intellectuals. They repeated with enthusiasm the atheistic currents of the Enlightenment, arguing that Irán must discard religion to become modernized.

The most explicit of this form of attack on Islám was expressed in the writings of Akhundzadih (1812-1878). In his anonymous and fictitious forms of writing, he criticized the dominant Islamic culture of Irán and argued that Islám was opposed to rationality, modernity, and economic development. He ridiculed Islamic traditional learning and sciences. For instance, he made extensive reference to the detailed description of the geography of heaven and hell in the writings and speeches of Muslim 'ulamá, wondering about the reason why these 'ulamá know nothing about the geography of the earth and scientific geography. Instead of blindly repeating otherworldly fabricated geography, Iranians would do better if they paid attention to the science of geography of this world, he argued. Similarly, he ridiculed the belief of Iranian Shi'ih Muslims who assumed that their twelveth Imám had disappeared from the world a thousand years ago, living in the imaginary cities of Jabolqa and Jabolsa and waiting to reappear in the future. Akhundzadih criticized Shi'ih practice of dissimulation which, he argued, has created a culture of hypocrisy and corruption in Irán. Furthermore, he objected to the prevalent practice of polygamy and questioned many different customary practices of the Muslims in Irán. For example, he speaks with disgust about the practice of carrying the dead from Irán to Iraq to be buried in Shi'ih holy cities. The fact that the bodies had to be carried for many weeks or months during hot summers, by mule, Akhundzadih said, is repulsive not only to the humans who were exposed to them but also to the poor animals who could not escape the unhealthy odor of decomposed bodies (Algar, 1973).

Opposing secular intellectuals, the conservative and traditionalist 'ulamá rejected the culture of modernity and asked for a return to Islamic tradition. According to this perspective, Irán, like other Islamic countries, was once a leading economic and political force in the world. This cultural and political victory and superiority of Irán was a product of its submission to Islamic law and authority. For many centuries, Islamic empires had been victorious against the infidel Western powers, forcing them into subjection. Islamic sciences were taught all over the world, including Western academies. Therefore, they argued, Islám is the cause and the agent of progress and civilization. The backwardness of Irán in recent centuries is simply due to deviation from Islamic law and tradition, and imitation of Western culture and ideas. According to the conservative religious leaders, there was a fundamental opposition between the precepts of Islám and the culture of modernity. The solution, therefore, is to return to the same form of cultural, economic, political, and administrative system that was prevalent in the past. Development means rejection of Western culture, science, education, law, administration, and political institutions, and returning to the old traditions of Islám.

Before discussing 'Abdu'l-Bahá's ingenious position with regard to this important debate, it is necessary to provide some more details about the intellectual currents in the second half of nineteenth-century Irán. The position of the conservative 'ulama was not clearly articulated. They remained in their traditional discourse, and their rejection of modernity and modern institutions was usually expressed in the form of a denouncement of religious heresy and equating any modernist idea with the Bábi movement, which was then automatically condemned. Even at the time of Constitutional Revolution in the early years of the twentieth century, when the ranks of the 'ulamás were divided on the question of constitutionalism, the conservative 'ulamá continued to denounce constitutionalism because they identified it with Bábí and Bahá'í doctrines.

However, the secular intellectuals were much more articulate in the second half of the nineteenth-century. During the 1850s and 1860s, the first group of the reform-oriented secular writings appeared in Irán. Akhundzadih and Malkum Khan (1833 - 1908) are presented as the most active of their generation. They called for legal and administrative reform as well as reform of the Persian alphabet and script. They defended the policy of granting concessions to Europeans and founded a secret modernist group called Faramush Khanih. The most important development of the 1870s, however, was the assumption of political power by the reformist group. Husayn Khan gave political positions to some of the reform-oriented secular politicians, including Malkum Khan and Yusif Khan and was specially influenced by Malkum. The decisive defeat of the reform camp at the end of the 1870s, turned the 1880s into a decade of political pessimism and disillusion. During the 1880s, Jamalu'd-Din Asadabadi (Al-Afghani) (1838 - 1896) , an Iranian who pretended to be Afghani, wrote political works using Islamic symbols to defend his modernist and anti-colonialist ideas. Finally, in the last decade of the nineteenth century bitter opposition to the reign of Nasiri'd-Din Shah was expressed by Malkum Khan from London, and Jamalu'd-Din and Aqa Khan-i-Kermani (1853 - 1896) from Istanbul (Keddie, 1968).

The decade of the 1890s paved the way for constitutional revolution in Iran in the following decade. Two particular events mark the 1890s. The first is the boycott of tobacco by the religious leaders as a protest against providing the tobacco concession to a British company. From then on, many of the 'ulamá participated in the Constitutional Movement. However, their ambivalence concerning the relation of modernity and Islam reappeared in devastating forms in drafting and implementing the new constitution, which eventually led to the failure of parliamentarian forces. The second event was the assassination of Nasiri'd-Din Shah by a follower of Jamalu'd-Din in 1896. Both Jamalu'd-Din and Aqa Khan-i-Kermani died in the same year.

Looking at The Secret of Divine Civilization we can see the unique position of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in this significant debate. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's position in The Secret of Divine Civilization has both a hidden and a manifest aspect. The hidden aspect is not explicated because 'Abdu'l-Bahá is writing his text anonymously and cannot make any reference to the Bahá'í Faith. Of course, 'Abdu'l-Bahá withheld his identity as a Bahá'í leader because otherwise his book would be automatically condemned by religious leaders and would not have a chance to reach the people of Irán. However, this implicit message is explicated in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's other writings.

To begin with the manifest aspect, 'Abdu'l-Bahá rejects both the modernist and the traditionalist positions in the debate. He argues that in fact Islám has been the cause of the emergence of a most wonderful and progressive civilization, and He agrees that the solution to the backwardness of Irán is to go back to the spirit of Islám. However, he does not agree with the conservative 'ulamá concerning the relation between Islám and modernity. The spirit of Islám, 'Abdu'l-Bahá affirms, is not opposed to either the culture of modernity or to learning positive cultural, scientific, and institutional lessons from Western non-Muslim people. This also means opposing the atheistic position of the secular intellectuals who defended the Western concept of modernity and rejected Islám as a backward ideology. Both parties had assumed a contradiction between the principles of modernity and Islám. One group, however, sided with traditional Islám, whereas the other group defended modernity.

Contrary to both positions, 'Abdu'l-Bahá argues, Islám requires a dynamic approach to religion and society. He refers to the Islamic tradition, according to which Muslims must seek knowledge from any part of the world even from a distant, non-Muslim country like China. He writes:

If it be objected that even where material affairs are concerned foreign importations are inadmissible, such an argument would only establish the ignorance and absurdity of its proponents. Have they forgotten the celebrated hadíth (Holy Tradition):  "Seek after knowledge, even unto China?"  ('Abdu'l-Bahá, 1990. p. 26) Similarly, 'Abdu'l-Bahá argues that the progressive force of Islamic culture has been an important cause in the cultural awakening of the medieval West, which led to the Renaissance revival of classical culture and eventually to the Reformation. Furthermore, 'Abdu'l-Bahá calls on the Muslim 'ulamá to realize the progressive role of Islam and to initiate fundamental reform and rationalization of different aspects of Iranian social and spiritual life. Given the political significance of 'ulamá in Irán, 'Abdu'l-Bahá uses a holy tradition to explicate the duties and responsibilities of 'ulama, true scholarship, and the mission of intellectuals. In his detailed and innovative explication, 'Abdu'l-Bahá always emphasizes the need for flexibility, historical adaptability, and the development of science and learning in society.

The major difference between 'Abdu'l-Bahá's interpretation of Islám and the interpretation shared by both conservative 'ulamá and secular intellectuals is related to the fact that 'Abdu'l-Bahá does not equate the spirit of Islám with traditionalism. This is the crucial difference. 'Abdu'l-Bahá emphasizes the dynamic spirit of Islám; the expression of the spirit of Islám at different times in accordance with the conditions of the time. It means that for 'Abdu'l-Bahá the spirit of Islám is in fact opposed to the return to past Islamic customs, laws, and traditions. The specific form of Islamic culture appearing in the beginning of Islám initiated a progressive civilization precisely because its specific cultural practices corresponded with the objective needs of the time and the stage of development of humanity. Insistence on traditionalism and calling for return to past practices, however, would be totally opposed to both the spirit of Islám and the requirements of an advancing civilization. In other words, for 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the spirit of Islam is not opposed to the authentic conceptions of the culture of modernity and rationalization.

The Secret of Divine Civilization, therefore, argues that religion and modernity are not opposed to each other, provided that by religion we understand the spirit of religion and not glorification and worship of tradition. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's position is equally a rejection of the atheistic premises of the secular intellectuals who defended modernity at the expense of spiritual and religious commitment. A more detailed discussion of this issue will be attempted in the next section, but it is necessary to point out here that 'Abdu'l-Bahá directly attacks the position of the French philosophy of the Enlightenment concerning the role of religion in society. Contrary to the atheistic assumptions of the French Enlightenment, divine revelation, religious values, and belief in the sanctity of spiritual guidance are necessary not only for effective order and morality but also for social and cultural progress, advancement, modernity, and development.

It is appropriate now to explicate the implicit and hidden position of 'Abdu'l-Bahá on the same question. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's implicit message in The Secret of Divine Civilization is a general and essential Bahá'í principle that has been emphasized in the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and other writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. In fact, it deals with the basic antinomy of modernity: On the one hand, people in different cultures recognize the need for spiritual values, religious beliefs, and moral guidance for a complex and fulfilling human life. On the other hand, open-minded persons also recognize that the past religious laws, commandments, or traditions are incompatible with the requirements of a rational and progressive modern order. Therefore, some reject rationality and accept traditionalism, while others affirm progress at the expense of religious belief. However, Bahá'u'lláh has already solved this frustrating antinomy. As mentioned in the beginning of this introduction, Bahá'u'lláh affirmed the doctrine of the oneness of all manifestations of God and the unity of all religions. This means that for Bahá'u'lláh the spirit of all religions is one and the same. That identical spirit, however, appears at different stages of human cultural development in a form that corresponds with the needs of the time. Therefore, each specific religion is a progressive and liberating force for its time. However, as time passes and humanity enters a new stage of development, the previous form of expression of divine revelation becomes outdated. It is like a medicine that no longer accords with the illness of the body of humanity. In other words, one should always be devoted to the true identical religion. That means that we should not engage in the worship of past traditions but seek guidance from the recent form of expression of divine revelation. In other words, Bahá'u'lláh advocates a historical and dynamic approach to religion and religious consciousness.

We can now clarify the implicit message of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as well. We saw that 'Abdu'l-Bahá emphasized the progressive character of the spirit of Islám, equating it with a dynamic orientation to life. What is implied here is not only the manifest call for reinterpretation of Islám but also an invitation to the Bahá'í Faith. Inspired by the message of Bahá'u'lláh, we can now understand that for 'Abdu'l-Bahá the true spirit of Islám required recognition of the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. Return to the spirit of Islám, therefore, is not a return to traditionalism, but an affirmation of the progressive, continuous, and historical character of divine revelation. It must be pointed out, however, that the manifest and hidden meanings of The Secret of Divine Civilization did not contradict each other. They simply expressed a different side of the same complex truth.

5. Towards a Theory of Development: Romanticism or the Enlightenment?

Probably the most important question concerning the concept of social and economic development relates to the possibility of the definition of development itself. It is surprising that this same question which constitutes the most important controversy in development theory in our time has also been the major question addressed by The Secret of Divine Civilization. As mentioned in the beginning of this introduction, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's text is organized in terms of His response to four objections against reform and rationalization. However, three of those objections are different variants of the same underlying assumption. Political and academic discourse at the end of twentieth century is also centered on the same controversy, struggling with the same assumption. That is one of the reasons for the relevance of The Secret of Divine Civilization to our generation in all regions of the world.

The basic debate can be summarized in terms of the two theories of development — historicist and objectivist. According to the historicist theory, there can be no objective and universal definition of the concept of socioeconomic and cultural development. Advocates of this theory argue that each culture has a life and logic of its own which is unique and incommensurable with those of other cultures. Consequently, they maintain, what is development for one culture is not development for another. Development, therefore, should be defined simply in terms of the internal definitions of a culture. In other words, the concept of development lacks any transcultural and transhistorical meaning. The term development has no meaning other than the meaning assigned to it within a culture. Consequently, development is simply following the dictates of tradition within each culture. To adopt a sound development policy would then mean to act on the basis of past traditions of the culture. Development becomes equated with traditionalism.

The historicist theory is opposed to the objectivist theory, according to which it is possible to define the concept of development in objective and universal forms. Development is assumed to be a process of rationalization, and this process is defined in terms of some objective characteristics of society and its form of organization. Consequently, past tradition becomes an inadequate criterion of development in any society. For the advocates of objectivist theory, cultures and social orders can also be sick or healthy, moral or immoral. In other words, the objectivist theory believes that it is possible to criticize aspects of different cultures and their traditions as inhuman, and backward. Some universal definition of development, in other words, is possible.

Usually, the two theories of historicism and objectivism are expressed in a more specific and practical form. The debate between the theories, accordingly, turns into a debate between the followers of native traditionalism and the advocates of Westernization. Normally, those who believe in an objectivist definition of development argue that underdeveloped and developing countries must adopt the science, culture, and social institutions of West European and North American societies and try to follow their model of social and cultural order. The advocates of the Western model believe in the culture of modernity, and they equate modernity with the modern West. To become modern, therefore, becomes the same as becoming developed, which is in turn identical with imitation and adoption of the Western path of development. Unlike the advocates of the Western model, the native traditionalists vehemently reject the relevance of the European (Western) model of development for non-European countries, arguing that no society should adopt the model of any other one. Instead, they argue that developed and developing countries should reject the Western model and return to their own past tradition and follow the dictates of their own traditional religious and cultural order.

To understand 'Abdu'l-Bahá's concept of development we should investigate diverse aspects of this question. However, before a more detailed analysis, it is useful to make some general observations. The position of The Secret of Divine Civilization can be described neither in Westernization nor in native traditionalist models of development. 'Abdu'l-Bahá defends the culture of modernity, but his definition of modernity is not the same as the model of West European societies. Nor is his modernity one of blind imitation of old and ossified traditions. What is most significant about The Secret of Divine Civilization is that it offers a novel concept of modernity which transcends existing social and cultural patterns. That is why 'Abdu'l-Bahá simultaneously defends and criticizes the Western model of development. He calls for learning the empirical science and technological advances of Europe, while he attacks the materialistic and militaristic features of the modern Western culture. Similarly, he defends the spirit of Islamic tradition, while rejecting the blind worship of past traditions.

Both modernity and development, therefore, are defined by 'Abdu'l-Bahá as a process of rationalization. This progressive rationalization has two distinct but related dimensions. Instrumental or formal rationalization deals with the application of modern science and efficient implementation of the means for the attainment of the ends. However, practical or moral rationalization relates to the development of the moral, spiritual, and communicative capacities of humans (see Habermas (1971), (1984-1987) for a good discussion of different types of rationalization processes). Authentic modernity, 'Abdu'l-Bahá affirms, is not possible without the combination of material/formal, and spiritual/moral, dimensions of civilization. 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes:

   A superficial culture, unsupported by a cultivated morality, is as "a confused medley of dreams," and external lustre without inner perfection is "like a vapor in the desert which the thirsty dreameth to be water." For results which would win the good pleasure of God and secure the peace and well-being of man, could never be fully achieved in a merely external civilization.
   The peoples of Europe have not advanced to the higher planes of moral civilization, as their opinions and behavior clearly demonstrate.  (1990. pp. 60 - 61)
To understand the issue better, we should investigate more closely the two opposing theories of development. In the history of social and political theory, the objectivist/Westernist model of development is equated with the French philosophy of the Enlightenment, while the native traditionalist/historicist theory was first formulated by the Romantic theory. All major debates on this issue ultimately go back to the fundamental opposition between the eighteenth-century philosophy of the Enlightenment and that of early nineteenth-century German Romanticism. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's position is really a refutation of both perspectives with a novel synthesis of the positive points of each doctrine.

The philosophy of the Enlightenment was a rationalistic theory. It argued that humans are by nature rational, and that a rational society is one which corresponds to the laws of human nature. For the Enlightenment philosophers, application of empirical science, capitalism, and political democracy is the fundamental feature of a rational society. Humans were defined as rational. That meant the fundamental law of human nature is utilitarianism. In other words, they argued, humans are totally determined, and there is no freedom of will. Human behavior is completely determined and predictable because by nature humans pursue pleasure and happiness, and avoid pain and suffering. Therefore, humans are rational in the sense that they choose the most efficient course of action to maximize their utility. This static and ahistorical conception of humans became the basis of Enlightenment political theory and society was perceived to be rational if it would allow individuals to pursue their interests freely. Capitalism, freedom from traditional, moral, and religious restraints became the sacred imperatives of this liberalist theory. Capitalism became the only natural form of society because it was seen to allow competitive pursuit of interests and maximize pleasure for individuals. Therefore, the way for development is to use scientific knowledge to dominate nature and increase human capacity to pursue pleasure in the context of an unbridled capitalism. Consequently, the philosophers of the Enlightenment maintained, West European societies are the only rational societies. All other cultures and societies are superstitious, backward, and irrational. Major philosophers of the Enlightenment — for example: Voltaire, Holbach, La Mettrie, Diderot, Condorcet, and Helvetius — supported this basic perspective (Saiedi, 1993).

Romantic theory of the early nineteenth century was a reaction against the excessive and arrogant pronouncements of Enlightenment theory. It was based upon an extreme form of historical consciousness, in the sense that it rejected the existence of any universal human nature and defined humans as simply social and historical beings. This means that for Romanticists, humans were cultural products of a specific society. Society, however, was seen as primarily an expression of nonrational cultural symbols like language, poetry, music, religion, tradition, and mythology. Each culture was an organic being, having a spirit of its own. No culture could be compared to any other culture, and therefore the only criterion for values became the internal tradition of each culture. What was crucial for the Romantics was to maintain the unity of culture and to act in accordance with the unerring dictates of that unitary tradition. Romantics, like Friedrich Schlegel, August Schlegel, Novalis, and Schleiermacher, opposed the emerging industrial and democratic order in Europe and called for monarchism, a return to the medieval class system and religious traditions (Saiedi, 1993).

'Abdu'l-Bahá's concept of modernity and development is qualitatively different from both these immoderate and one-sided theories. In his conception of humans, He defines humans in terms of the interaction of both rational and normative orientations. Humans are historical beings, but this historical orientation becomes the basis of a progressive and open perspective and, unlike the belief of the Romantics, it does not end in blind worship of tradition. The dynamic flow of history implies that at each stage of its development humanity must actualize its potentialities for that time, and this actualization requires adaptation to the objective requirements of the time. 'Abdu'l-Bahá affirms the beauty of all cultures. We should learn the creative lessons of the spirit of all cultures and their traditions in order to march forward. Both historicity and respect for the creative spirit of cultures and religions call for a progressive attitude. However, this progressive attitude is not the same as the philosophy of the Enlightenment. For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Enlightenment's conception of humans is too materialistic, selfish, and mechanical. Humans are motivated by both normative values and rational considerations. The true meaning of life, unlike the theory of the Enlightenment, is not one of insatiable consumption. Such a life is spiritually impoverished and morally corrupt.

What is most problematic about Enlightenment theory is its narrow definition of rationality. Rationality is only defined in terms of instrumental and formal rationality, and the idea of practical and moral rationality is entirely overlooked by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Consequently, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's notion of development and modernity is one of progressive rationalization, but this rationalization is not the same as Enlightenment's conception of reason. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's rationalization has at least three distinct features that are unique to his vision. First, it is based upon a historical consciousness, and not a doctrine of a fixed selfish human nature. Second, it is composed of two types of rationalization processes: instrumental and moral ones. Finally, it is based upon a global approach to modern humanity. The next section will discuss the third element, but first 'Abdu'l-Bahá's solution to the antinomy of the historicist and objectivist models will be elaborated in more detail.

5.1 Critique of Historicist Theory

'Abdu'l-Bahá strongly criticizes the historicist theory of development. We saw that historicist theory, as first formulated by the Romantics, called for veneration of old practices and worship of archaic traditions. However, positions of this type are entirely devoid of any historical sensitivity, because they recognize historical processes in the past while desiring to stop the flow of history in the present. The advocates of historicist tradition are of two groups. In the past, historicists were in fact not advocating tolerance of other cultures; rather, they normally believed in the superiority of their own culture and tradition and had no problem in imposing and generalizing their own tradition on other cultures. However, they talked about cultural uniqueness and cultural specificity only when they were confronted with the need to adopt from other cultures. At the end of the twentieth century, some modern advocates of historicist theory continued to defend the historicist model because of their belief in cultural tolerance and diversity. The best example of this new formulation is the post-modernist theory which considers all truth and all values to be relative and devoid of any objective meaning and to affirm cultural diversity. However, both of these forms of historicist theory are one-sided. The first version is an ethnocentric doctrine that is imprisoned in the worldview of its past traditions and finds its own tradition to be the only cultural truth, superior to all other cultures. The conservative 'ulamá's position was an example of this intolerant form of historicism. In this sense historicist theory becomes identical with its opposite theory, namely, the philosophy of the Enlightenment, whose proponents believed in the superiority of the Western modern culture and expressed a narrow-minded ethnocentrism. Even the more modern version of historicism is equally problematic. If one rejects any objective truth or value, then there is no reason to defend the value of diversity either. Cultural and political intolerance and imperialism would then be as good as cultural tolerance. Post-modernist theory is trapped in a fundamental contradiction. On the one hand, it rejects any objectivity for any value, and yet on the other hand calls for the moral imperative of mutual respect and tolerance. This can only make sense if a post-modernist makes a distinction between good tradition and bad tradition. Tolerant cultures become good ones and intolerant cultures unacceptable. Obviously the internal cultural tradition is no longer sufficient for definition of right and wrong, rational and irrational (Bell, 1976).

Both types of historicist theory ignore the fact that in the traditions of all past cultures there have been significant laws and customs which defended particular interests of the possessors of power and systematically suppressed the rights of other groups. War, imperialistic invasion, religious intolerance, extremes of social inequality, patriarchy, and racial, ethnic, and linguistic intolerance have been frequent realities of past traditions. For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, development cannot be equated with unconditional worship and glorification of one's own past tradition. Humanity must march forward, and in this march it must also learn from the creative spirit of the glorious cultural innovations of the past. Another problem with the historicist tradition is that no tradition is absolutely unitary. In any society there are elements of many diverse and opposing cultural traditions and worldviews. By definition, then, a historicist model must suppress the richness of its cultural history to be able to pretend that it is following the one true tradition of its history. This type of hisoricist model has served as a pretext for persecution of minorities and suppression of human rights of various groups.

It is for these reasons that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's vision of development is neither historicist nor ethnocentric. For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, authentic development is equated with the principle of unity in diversity. It means that respect for the internal conditions and cultures of different societies must be one of the elements of the definition of development. However, there are certain objective and universal features and preconditions for development as well. In discussing the universal preconditions of development, 'Abdu'l-Bahá calls for many forms of rationalization in Iranian society. For instance, He argues that a legal system in which the judicial decision is oriented to the objective features of action and not based upon the arbitrary discretion of the judge is a rational model for all cultures and societies. If the judicial practice of Irán deviates from this model, then instead of celebration of injustice and inefficiency, judicial reform must be implemented. He effectively argues that if the judicial system is not consistent, predictable, and universalistic, the results will be an unending waste of resources for further judicial claims:

   Up to now the religious law has not been given a decisive role in our courts, because each of the 'ulamá has been handing down decrees as he saw fit, based on his arbitrary interpretation and personal opinion. For example, two men will go to law, and one of the 'ulama will find for the plaintiff and another for the defendant. It may even happen that in one and the same case two conflicting decisions will be handed down by the same mujtahid, on the grounds that he was inspired first in one direction and then in the other. There can be no doubt that this state of affairs has confused every important issue and must jeopardize the very foundations of society. For neither the plaintiff nor the defendant ever loses hope of eventual success, and each in turn will waste his life in the attempt to secure a later verdict which would reverse the previous one.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, 1990. pp. 37 - 38)
It becomes clear that for 'Abdu'l-Bahá at this stage of the development of humanity, some universal principles are imperative for all societies and cultures. In addition to rationalization of law and the judiciary, 'Abdu'l-Bahá calls for political rationalization as well. For him, equality of all citizens in terms of basic rights and political democracy are among the objective and universal features of the development of modern societies. If internal tradition is one of discrimination and violation of individual rights, or if it maintains an oppressive political structure, it is then the tradition which should change and adapt to the imperatives of an emerging complex and international world order. It is interesting that historicist theory usually presents a critique of ethnocentrism and imperialism. If historicist theory is seen as a means to maintain protests against cultural and political imperialism, then respect for the inherent rights and dignity of individuals must follow. Thus the same historicist theory must defend the equality of rights of individuals as a universal principle of development.

It is important to recognize that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's call for political democracy in Iran was an innovation in the intellectual currents of nineteenth-century Irán. The next call for political democracy in Irán was made decades later.

It is also important to note that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's discussion of political democracy follows neither the Western nor the Eastern model. In modern Western political tradition, the question of political power is primarily the question of representative government and universal election. In the traditional Eastern model, the question of political power or leadership is concentrated on questions of  moral preconditions and characteristics of the leader. 'Abdu'l-Bahá emphasizes these issues and insists on both universal participation and on the moral requisites of the elected ('Abdu'l-Bahá, p.17).

In an approach similar to His invitation for political reform, 'Abdu'l-Bahá encourages administrative reform by attacking corruption and nepotism, and calling for moral and institutional changes which will make arbitrary and abusive policies impractical (p.16).

Technological and economic reform is frequently discussed in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's text. He advocates industrial expansion, technological and scientific consolidation, social planning on the basis of rational prediction of the future, universal protection of the rights and freedom of all individuals, and infrastructure reform (pp. 14, 32, 39, 101).

An important issue discussed in The Secret of Divine Civilization is the question of work ethics. Unlike the prevailing norms of Iranian society which encouraged unproductive pursuits and poverty, 'Abdu'l-Bahá praises acquisition of wealth, provided that two conditions are met. First, wealth should be gained through the individual's own productive activities in commerce, agriculture, art, and industry. Second it must be accompanied by a sense of moral responsibility and philanthropy for other humans.

While 'Abdu'l-Bahá in this text does not explicitly raise the question of capitalism or socialism, His position is already clear. He calls for equitable income distribution in society, which means that he neither supports total income equality and elimination of competition in civil society, nor accepts unlimited competitive capitalist liberalism and excessive inequality. In His other writings, however, 'Abdu'l-Bahá deals with this question directly and explicitly. It is clear that for 'Abdu'l-Bahá both ideological extremes are unacceptable. He calls for elimination of poverty and excess of wealth but accepts moderate economic competition in the context of a new approach to the meaning of work; commitment to moral and spiritual principles of the oneness of humankind and community solidarity; emphasis on agriculture; decentralized fiscal, economic, and administrative structures; welfare measures for the poor, and harmony and cooperation in the public and private sectors. It is interesting that 'Abdu'l-Bahá asks Iranians to note the economic and technological changes happening in Japan as one of the examples of economic reform (pp. 111, 112). The significance of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's ideas on economic questions will be further discussed in the next section. However, the moral framework of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's concept of wealth is evident in The Secret of Divine Civilization. He writes:

Wealth is most commendable, provided the entire population is wealthy. If, however, a few have inordinate riches while the rest are impoverished, and no fruit or benefit accrues from that wealth, then it is only a liability to its possessor. If, on the other hand, it is expended for the promotion of knowledge, the founding of elementary and other schools, the encouragement of art and industry, the training of orphans and the poor — in brief , if it is dedicated to the welfare of society — its possessor will stand out before God and man as the most excellent of all who live on earth and will be accounted as one of the people of paradise. (pp. 24, 25) Another important area discussed by The Secret of Divine Civilization is educational rationalization. 'Abdu'l-Bahá even mentions the possibility of His writing a second volume on the question of educational reform (pp. 106 - 107). Elements of this reform include universal education, concentration on beneficial and scientific disciplines, and avoidance of scholastic controversies, which are harmful to social harmony and scientific productivity. He argues that effective attainment of social justice in society is dependent on the presence of an enlightened and educated population (pp. 18, 105 - 106, 109 - 110, 118). It must be noted, however, that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's call for scientific education and His warning against scholastic controversies should not be interpreted as a rejection of the need for moral education. On the contrary, for 'Abdu'l-Bahá what is crucial is the harmony and cooperation of both moral and technical education.

Finally, I refer to the question of religious rationalization in The Secret of Divine Civilization. The focus of the text is an affirmation of the need for religious reform in Irán. 'Abdu'l-Bahá mentions the Protestant Reformation and calls on the Muslim clergy to learn from the lessons of that historical experience (pp. 41 - 43). However, the longest part of The Secret of Divine Civilization is devoted to refutation of the traditionalist claims of the conservative 'ulamá who argued that Islám is opposed to learning modern science and institutional norms. The Muslim 'ulamá have usually rejected the adoption of Western practices as heretical innovations contrary to Islám. 'Abdu'l-Bahá provides forceful arguments against this version of historicist theory. First, he argues that details of scientific and technological questions are to some extent independent from the question of religious teachings and revelation (pp.2526). Similarly, He argues that in fact the prophet Muhammad called for learning from the knowledge of all groups, and He reminds His readers that Muhammad adopted Persian military tactics in the Battle of Ditches (p. 27). Furthermore, He notes the adoption of many pre-Islamic practices in Islamic law (pp. 27 - 30). He also points out that Greek logic and philosophy were adopted by Islamic sciences and are taught by the same 'ulamá who are now opposed to any learning from Western societies (pp. 30 - 31)! It is in this context that 'Abdu'l-Bahá reinterprets an Islamic tradition which explicates the characteristics of authentic 'ulamás (p. 34). His interpretation calls for attention to the creative spirit of Islám with a progressive and historical orientation.

5.2 Critique of Enlightenment's objectivist theory

'Abdu'l-Bahá's refutation of the traditionalist theory of development affirmed the possibility of some universal elements within the concept of development. However, this is by no means an acceptance of objectivist theory as formulated by the philosophy of the Enlightenment and its advocates in Irán. Consequently, 'Abdu'l-Bahá is opposed to any Westernization theory because He argues that the model of development of the West is onesided and inadequate. As we saw, 'Abdu'l-Bahá supports and encourages the adoption of the positive elements of the Western model. This means primarily learning modern science and technology, and moving towards a universalistic, and democratic pattern of authority in which any form of discrimination on the basis of religious belief, sex, class, race, ethnicity, political beliefs, and other personal characteristics are excluded. For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, this process of democratization and inclusion is indeed a moral imperative and a universal aspect of the definition of development for any society in the modern age. However, contrary to Iranian secular intellectuals who advocated blind imitation of the West, 'Abdu'l-Bahá criticizes fundamental aspects of the Western model of development.

For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, true modernity is not yet realized in the West not only because of the persistence of varieties of discriminations and prejudices, an issue emphasized by 'Abdu'l-Bahá constantly in his trip to Europe and America, but also because the Western concept of rationalization is only an instrumental one. True rationalization, however, requires both spiritual and material progress. Iranians, therefore, should follow the scientific and technical achievements of the West without following its one-dimensional approach to modernity and development. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's criticism of the objectivistic model of Enlightenment theory can be summarized in three arguments. First, Enlightenment theory is based upon a static conception of human nature and society. For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, however, humans are both spiritual and historical beings and society is an organic entity (pp. 107 - 108). Modernity, in other words, is a historically specific phenomenon. However, the present structural characteristics of the world require a new approach to the concept of development. Development has to be understood both in terms of universal and global common principles and as a decentralized local process.

'Abdu'l-Bahá's second argument against the philosophy of the Enlightenment is related to its atheistic aspect. He directly mentions Voltaire and criticizes his assumption that instrumental reason without the support of spiritual values is sufficient for a progressive social order. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's discussion here is similar to Bahá'u'lláh's pronouncements on the question of order. For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, development requires not only scientific and material creativity and progress but also spiritual renewal and progress. The mistake of the philosophers of the Enlightenment was to equate traditional religious customs with the spirit of religion. They called for scientific and institutional change but failed to see the need for spiritual regeneration as well. Instead, they rejected religion and spirituality. Effective order is dependent on internal restraints, universal love and solidarity, and practical rationality. He writes:

   It is certain that the greatest of instrumentalities for achieving the advancement and the glory of man, the supreme agency for the enlightenment and the redemption of the world, is love and fellowship and unity among all the members of the human race. Nothing can be effected in the world, not even conceivably, without unity and agreement, and the perfect means for engendering fellowship and unity is true religion. (p. 73) 'Abdu'l-Bahá points out that the present customs among the believers of different religions should not be equated with the truth of religion. He uses historical analysis to show the creative role of divine revelation in the creation of civilization, extension of unity and fellowship, and advancement of science and civilization. Neither rejection of religion nor blind obedience to the past traditions is the right choice. What is required is the adoption of a progressive and historical approach to divine revelation.

More specifically, 'Abdu'l-Bahá argues that contrary to the idea of the Enlightenment philosophy, morality requires spiritual commitment. Concerning the argument that people are instinctively equipped with a moral sense and therefore need no spiritual guidance and education, He replies that humankind's so-called moral sense is in fact a product of education. He also notes that even if there is a moral sense it would be confined to only a few individuals and not as a feature common to the masses of people. Even a latent moral sense needs actualization through religion and spiritual education. Furthermore, He makes it clear that moral principles are historically inspired by great historical religions. Finally, He adds that even if a person is morally inclined, his or her purity of heart and good intentions will increase through spiritual feelings (pp. 97 - 98).

'Abdu'l-Bahá's third objection to the Western model of development is concerned with Western culture and policies of militarism, colonialism, domination, and international aggression. He writes:

The peoples of Europe have not advanced to the higher planes of moral civilization, as their opinions and behavior clearly demonstrate. Notice, for example, how the supreme desire of European governments and peoples today is to conquer and crush one another....  (p. 61) This question is central for 'Abdu'l-Bahá's worldview, given His belief in the oneness of humankind and His commitment to the principles of love, unity, and peace. In fact, His affirmation of the need for a global approach to development is influenced by His rejection of all cultures of violence and aggression. Authentic modernity and development, 'Abdu'l-Bahá believes, is defined by higher levels of capacity for love, unity and service. That state is far from the militaristic, selfish, and materialistic culture of the West and its theoretical expression.

Next, some of the basic differences between 'Abdu'l-Bahá and secular Iranian intellectuals with regard to the question of reform will be examined. Aside from other issues discussed previously, a few technical differences are also noted. First, although 'Abdu'l-Bahá encourages learning Western science and technology, He never supported granting concessions to Western companies. Malkum Kan and Husayn Khan strongly defended the policy of concessions, and Malkum wrote different texts to defend this thesis. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, however, did not even once support the idea. It is interesting that in 1891, after the granting of tobacco concession to a British company and before the tobacco boycott by the 'ulama, Bahá'u'lláh criticized Nasiri'd-Din Shah's neglect of agriculture (Bahá'u'lláh, 1978. p. 90). Second, although 'Abdu'l-Bahá defended modernity, He never supported Faramush Khanih because of its implicit philosophical position of atheism. Third, 'Abdu'l-Bahá did not support the idea of reform of the Persian alphabet and script. However, He did defend the need for an international auxiliary language in His writings. Fourth, unlike the ideas of the secular intellectuals, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's concept of development was both decentralized and global. Finally, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's approach was based upon a historical consciousness and not a static concept of society as found in Enlightenment philosophy.

6. Global Approach to Development: Nationalism or Internationalism

An essential aspect of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's theory of development that differentiates it from any theory of development in the nineteenth or twentieth century is His emphasis on the need for international cooperation, peace, and a global approach to modernity. Although for a better understanding of this issue one must look at the totality of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's writings, we can find explicit analysis of this significant question in The Secret of Divine Civilization. Recognizing the complex interrelation of different parts of the world in economic, political, scientific, and cultural domains, 'Abdu'l-Bahá argues that the question of development cannot be adequately addressed simply through nationalistic measures and policies. That is why He calls on political leaders of the world to come together and create international agreements for world peace. For 'Abdu'l-Bahá, a militarized world in which much of the resources of the world is wasted on military pursuits and destructive weapons is not conducive to social, cultural, and economic development. Social justice within different countries is difficult to achieve when governments waste their resources in preparation for war and arms competition. 'Abdu'l-Bahá emphasizes the need for universal disarmament and an orientation to promote life and not death. He writes:

   True civilization will unfurl its banner in the midmost heart of the world whenever a certain number of its distinguished and high-minded sovereigns...shall, for the good and happiness of all mankind, establish the Cause of Universal Peace. They to establish a Union of the nations of the world. They must conclude a binding treaty and establish a covenant.... In this all-embracing Pact the limits and frontiers of each and every nation should be clearly fixed.... In like manner, the size of the armaments of every government should be strictly limited, for if the preparations for war and the military forces of any nation should be allowed to increase, they will arouse the suspicion of the others.... In this way the entire population would, first of all, be relieved of the crushing burden of expenditure currently imposed for military purposes, and secondly, great numbers of people would cease to devote their time to the continual devising of new weapons of destruction — those testimonials of greed and bloodthirstiness, so inconsistent with the gift of life — and would instead bend their efforts to the production of whatever will foster human existence and peace and well-being, and would become the cause of universal development and prosperity.
('Abdu'l-Bahá. pp. 64 - 66)
While in The Secret of Divine Civilization 'Abdu'l-Bahá does not discuss the issue in much detail, in His other writings He elaborates extensively and frequently His global approach. Indeed this is not surprising given the fact that Bahá'u'lláh had declared the oneness of humankind to be the ultimate goal of His revelation. A discussion of the details of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's global perspective is beyond the scope of this introduction. However, an important point of His global perspective is that the concept of the oneness of humanity is simultaneously a moral and structural imperative. This means that both a new morality of love and fellowship, as well as new political, economic, and cultural structures are needed for realization of true unity. Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá emphasized the necessity of both individual and structural transformations of  humanity. On an individual level, the oneness of humankind is based on a spiritual morality which sees all humans as equal and sacred. Humans as manifestations and mirrors of divine attributes are loved and dignified in this new moral and spiritual vision. The morality of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá is not simply a morality of consequences but also a morality of pure intentions, adaptations to the new situation, commitment to principles of equality and solidarity, and an orientation to self-sacrifice and preference of others over oneself. In short, it is a morality of love. At the same time, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá called for structural transformations of social institutions as well. An important component of this new structural ideal is the emergence of international and global economic, political, linguistic, and judicial institutions. World peace, elimination of hunger, and global development are conditioned on these twin processes involving the individual and the institutions.

Related to that point is the fact that for Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá the present nationalistic model of social, economic, and political organization is inadequate. Humanity is becoming interdependent, and new challenges, for example, the threat of nuclear war, pollution of the environment, and widespread hunger require an international method of problem solving. However, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá are not opposed to nationalism. Nationalism will continue to be an important element of social organization; however, it would no longer be the exclusive and dominant one. Instead, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá suggest both decentralization toward local initiative, and globalization towards international agreements, cooperation and structures as necessary at this stage of human development. The basic model is one of unity in diversity. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's vision was and remains truly revolutionary. This is, however, a revolution rooted in love not hatred.

7. Conclusion: 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Concept of Modernity

The beginning of this introduction referred to Bahá'u'lláh's concept of a new world order. Having investigated 'Abdu'l-Bahá's The Secret of Divine Civilization, we can now understand that in fact 'Abdu'l-Bahá's concepts of modernity and development are elaborations of Bahá'u'lláh's creative vision. Development requires a process of rationalization in which both instrumental rationality and moral rationality are combined and affirmed in the life of humanity. This multidimensional rationalization must take a global orientation as well. What is significant in this model is that it transcends and solves the antinomies between opposing onesided approaches. It affirms the sanctity of religious truth and guidance but at the same time adopts a progressive and non traditionalistic outlook.

One can see the creativity of the words of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá in their new conception of the relationship between faith and science. For them, both religion and science are historically dynamic and progressive forces, which means that both science and revelation are subject to historical change and development. Both religious truth and scientific truth are relative to their times, and both progress in terms of the needs of an ever-advancing humanity. Modernity and development are defined in terms of the harmony of these twin progressive forces. We can note the fundamental difference of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's vision from the two opposing perspectives of atheistic objectivism and traditionalistic historicism.

Bahá'u'lláh's writings offer a concept of true modernity, which implies a progressive movement toward efficiency, unity, communication, and love. Western accomplishments in the realm of science and instrumental reason are not accompanied by either moral rationalization or global orientation. The result is immoderation even in material civilization. Authentic development and true modernity require a qualitatively different form of rationalization. Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá offered this unique, multidimensional, and creative vision to humanity. Although revealed in their writings in the nineteenth century, its message remains creative beyond the boundaries of nineteenth-century Irán. It is for that reason we can understand why The Secret of Divine Civilization is a text for all seasons, devoted to the question of development in both Iran and the world.


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