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COLLECTIONLetters from the Universal House of Justice
TITLEApparent Contradictions in the Bahá'í Writings, Reconciliation of
AUTHOR 1 Universal House of Justice
ABSTRACTOn apparent contradictions, regarding Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl on Abraham and Zoroaster; 'Abdu'l-Bahá and a Baby Naming Ceremony; Minimum Age of Marriage; Smoking and Firmness in the Covenant; Corporal Punishment; Táhirih as "Woman Suffragette."
CROSSREFTahirih and Women's Suffrage
TAGSAbraham; Children; Contradictions; Corporal punisment; Criticism and apologetics; Marriage; Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani; Names (personal); Research Department, Questions and answers; Smoking; Tahirih; Zoroaster

General Comments
1) Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl on Abraham and Zoroaster
2) 'Abdu'l-Bahá and a Baby Naming Ceremony
3) Minimum Age of Marriage
4) Smoking and Firmness in the Covenant
5) Corporal Punishment
6) Táhirih as "Women Suffrage Martyr"

The Research Department has studied the email message of 2 January 2002 to the Universal House of Justice from Mr. ___ in which he asks for assistance in reconciling various statements from the Writings that seem to contradict each other. He states his awareness that "many times the reconciliation of seeming contradictions produces a new spark of truth" and draws attention to two or more apparently contradictory quotations on six different subjects. He offers his thoughts about how each of the apparent contradictions might be resolved, and asks for further clarification. The following is our response.

General Comments

It seems to the Research Department that before addressing Mr. __'s specific concerns it might be useful to offer the following comments:

  • In a letter of 19 March 1946 written on his behalf, Shoghi Effendi offers the following guidance about apparently contradictory statements:

    We must take the teachings as a great, balanced whole, not seek out and oppose to each other two strong statements that have different meanings; somewhere in between, there are links uniting the two. That is what makes our Faith so flexible and well balanced. For instance there are calamities for testing and for punishment--there are also accidents, plain cause and effect!

  • The elucidations of both 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and the clarifications provided by the Universal House of Justice are often not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of a subject but were written as responses to specific queries of believers.

  • In attempting to resolve a seeming contradiction between two statements, it is often illuminating to consider each statement in the context in which it appears. It is also important to consider the reliability of the translations. With the obvious exception of translations of the Guardian, early translations may be inaccurate and misleading.

  • In order to deepen one's understanding of a complex subject it is necessary to take into account a wide range of statements.

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1. Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl on Abraham and Zoroaster

Mr. ___ alludes to a statement by Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl in his book "The Bahá'í Proofs" and draws attention to two apparently contradictory statements relating to it in letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to individuals. The three statements in question follow below:

(a) So also in the past days, Abraham, who was entitled "Zoroaster," appeared in Persian regions and taught the Parsee nation the worship of the merciful God, abolishing idolatry from among them announcing the coming of the "Hour," reminding them of the future Resurrection, explaining the signs and tokens thereof, and unveiling the appointed time.

("The Bahá'í Proofs", 3rd ed, 1929 (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983), p. 125)

(b) Zoroaster was not Abraham; the Muslims, some of them, contend that They were the same, but we believe They were two distinct Prophets. There is a misunderstanding in the reference in "Bahá'í Proofs" to this matter.

(26 December 1941) (Published in "The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá'í Community", (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981), p. 451)

(c) Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl was a very excellent and erudite Bahá'í teacher. Although he did err sometimes, yet, in identifying Abraham with Zoroaster he is not confusing the Prophet Abraham with the Prophet Zoroaster, as the name of Zoroaster was supposed to have been "Abram".

(23 June 1948) (Published in "Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand: 1923-1957, (Australia: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia, 1970), p. 41)

If we understand correctly, it is Mr. ___'s view that while the word "misunderstanding" in quotation (b) might relate to the readers, the "grammar" of the quotation leads him to believe that it relates to Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl and indicates "that Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl was in error". It seems to us that clarification of this matter is provided by statements (a) and (c) above. Zoroaster's given name is understood to have been "Abram", and "Zoroaster" is His title. Similarly, Abraham's given name is also understood to have been "Abram", and "Abraham" is His title.1 Furthermore, in a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual, we read,

He was very interested in your notes concerning Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl's teachings on Zoroaster and the information on the relationship between Bahá'u'lláh's family and the ancient kings of Persia. In the past some of the friends were under the misapprehension that Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl taught that Abraham and Zoroaster were the same person.

(24 March 1943)

1 This clarification also appears in 'Alí-Akbar Dihkhudá, "Lughatnámih", vol. 8, p. 11287.

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2. 'Abdu'l-Bahá and a Baby Naming Ceremony

Mr. ___ quotes a statement taken from "Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas", volume I (New York: Bahá’í Publishing Committee, 1930 printing), pages 149-150, in which the Master seems to outline activities that might be undertaken in connection with the naming of a child;2 and a statement from a letter dated 7 September 1966 written by the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States that includes the following statement of Shoghi Effendi: "Regarding your question whether there is any special ceremony which the believers should perform when they wish to 'name' a baby: the Teachings do not provide for any ceremony whatever on such occasions". Mr. ___ expresses concern that although 'Abdu'l-Bahá's statement may have been written to an individual and it appears in an out of print book, the believers might use "the recommended 'ceremony'".

It may be of interest to Mr. ___ to observe first that although 'Abdu'l-Bahá's statement represents an early translation, it is taken from an authentic Tablet of the Master and the following is the authorized translation made some time ago:

Thou hast asked regarding the naming of children: When it is wished to celebrate the naming of a child, a special gathering may be held at which prayers and verses from the Holy Writings should be read out, and all should fervently entreat, in lowliness and devotion before the Divine Threshold, that the new- born infant may attain to righteousness, and beseech that it may be granted heavenly confirmation, steadfastness and constancy. The chosen name should then be conferred on the child, and afterwards sweetmeats and refreshments may be served--this is spiritual baptism.

It seems to us that Shoghi Effendi's statement quoted above does not contradict 'Abdu'l-Bahá's statement but defines the non-obligatory nature of the activities that He describes. In this regard, we have attached a short compilation titled "On the Naming of Babies" prepared earlier. It includes additional statements from letters of the Universal House of Justice confirming that there are no formal naming ceremonies in the Faith (extracts 5 and 6), and that the friends are free to make a celebratory occasion out of the naming of a new child "provided they avoid uniformity and rigidity in all such practices". (extracts 1, 5, and 6)

3. Minimum Age of Marriage

QUESTION: In a treatise in Persian on various questions, the age of maturity hath been set at fifteen; is marriage likewise conditional upon the reaching of maturity, or is it permissible before that time?

ANSWER: Since the consent of both parties is required in the Book of God, and since, before maturity, their consent or lack of it cannot be ascertained, marriage is therefore conditional upon reaching the age of maturity, and is not permissible before that time. (Question and Answer 92)3

2 "Thou hast asked regarding the naming of children: When thou wishest to name a babe, prepare a meeting therefor; chant the verses and communes, and supplicate and implore the Threshold of Oneness and beg the attainment of guidance for the babe and wish confirmated firmness and constancy; then give the name and enjoy beverage and sweetmeat. This is spiritual baptism."
3 "The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1993).

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Citing the text quoted above, Mr. ___ asks how one can reconcile the following statement in a letter of 17 June 1954 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly that "There is no specific minimum age mentioned in the Bahá'í teachings at which girls may marry":

In dealing with people who are still backward in relation to our civilized standards, and in many cases guided by a tribal system which has strong orders of its own, he feels that you should be both tactful and forbearing. There is no specific minimum age mentioned in the Bahá'í teachings at which girls may marry. In the future, this and other questions unspecified will be dealt with by the International House of Justice. In the mean time, we must not be too strict in enforcing our opinions on peoples still living in primitive social orders.

In response to a similar question about the quotation above, the Universal House of Justice in a letter of 25 October 1984 written on its behalf to a National Spiritual Assembly provides the following elucidation:

What is not specified in the texts, in connection with the question of the age at which girls may marry, is the degree to which the Bahá'í law on this point, and other similar points, is to be applied at this time, if and when it conflicts with the requirements of an established tribal system which has what is described in the above passage as "strong orders of its own". Such questions are to be referred to the Universal House of Justice, and, in the interim, the Guardian did not want the friends to be "too strict" in such matters.

When Shoghi Effendi's statement is read in this light, it is not in conflict with what has been outlined in the "Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas".

4. Smoking and Firmness in the Covenant

Mr. ___ draws attention to the following statements of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, respectively, on the subject of smoking:

(a) So, for those who are firm in the Covenant, it is a thing reprobated by the reason and by tradition, the renouncement of which giveth gradual repose and tranquillity, permitteth one to have stainless hands and a clean mouth, and hair which is not pervaded by a bad odor.

Without any doubt, the friends of God on receiving this epistle will renounce this injurious habit by all means, even if it be necessary to do so by degrees. This is my hope.4

(b) Smoking has nothing to do with firmness in the Covenant. Bahá'ís are advised not to smoke for reasons of health and hygiene, not because of any spiritual reasons. We naturally cherish every hint and advice from 'Abdu'l-Bahá regarding our conduct, but as He has not forbidden this we must leave each person free to decide for himself.

(9 August 1944 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual)

4 Taken from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá published in "Bahá'í World Faith" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1976), p. 335.

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He wonders if these two passages might be reconciled "by considering firmness in the Covenant in different degrees", similar to the continuum that might be drawn from Covenant-breaking to actions leading to loss of administrative rights to actions such as not reciting the verses of God morning and evening.

As Mr. ___ is aware, "Bahá'í World Faith", a compilation of early English translations and some inauthentic texts, is no longer in print. However, the Tablet containing quotation (a) is authentic and an authorized translation, quoted below, is published in "Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, paragraph 129.9. {Ed. - p. 148}

To those who stand firm in the Covenant, this habit is therefore censured both by reason and experience, and renouncing it will bring relief and peace of mind to all men. Furthermore, this will make it possible to have a fresh mouth and unstained fingers, and hair that is free of a foul and repellent smell. On receipt of this missive, the friends will surely, by whatever means and even over a period of time, forsake this pernicious habit. Such is my hope.

In addition, in a letter dated 18 March 1973 the Universal House of Justice reiterates 'Abdu'l-Bahá's strong discouragement of smoking and provides clear guidance to the friends in relation to their attitude towards this matter. The letter states:

It is to be hoped that the widespread publicity being given to the evil effects of smoking, both on smokers and on those who have to breathe smoke-laden air, will help to convince everyone of the wisdom of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in strongly discouraging Bahá'ís from smoking. However, Bahá'ís must be careful not to go beyond the Teachings in this matter and try to enforce as a law a matter in which Bahá'u'lláh has deemed it wise to allow freedom of decision. The Tablet of Purity is not an accurate translation, and it is clear from the original that 'Abdu'l-Bahá does not state that smoking is prohibited. To letters inquiring about this subject the Guardian's secretary replied on his behalf that Bahá'ís had no right to prevent anyone from smoking; that Bahá'ís were free to smoke but it was preferable for them not to do so; and that an issue should not be made of this matter. The use of tobacco, in common with other personal practices, should be subject to considerations of courtesy. The Bahá'í in his daily life, whether smoker or non-smoker, should always be conscious of the rights of those about him and avoid doing anything which would give offence.

5. Corporal Punishment

Mr. ___ alludes to a reference in "The Priceless Pearl" that mentions Shoghi Effendi being chastised by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and contrasts it with two seemingly opposing statements. He speculates that "the consequences for child-rearing (let alone legal implications) would be important if the Perfect Exemplar did chastise His children with His blessed hand (although of course this would be different than to 'strike' or subject to 'blows' which He prohibited and thus would not have done.)". The statements in question follow below:

(a) Dr. Zia Baghdadi, an intimate of the family, in his recollections of these days records that Shoghi Effendi was always the first to get up and be on time--after receiving one good chastisement from no other hand than that of his grandfather!5

5 Ruhiyyih Rabbani "The Priceless Pearl", 2nd ed (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 2000), p. 8.

Reconciliation of Apparent Contradictions28 May 2002
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(b) And yet it was this same Mírzá Muhammad-'Ali who ... had, in the lifetime of Bahá'u'lláh, so openly and shamelessly advanced in a written statement, signed and sealed by him, the very claim now falsely imputed by him to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, that his Father had, with His own hand, chastised him".6

(c) Whensoever a mother seeth that her child hath done well, let her praise and applaud him and cheer his heart; and if the slightest undesirable trait should manifest itself, let her counsel the child and punish him, and use means based on reason, even a slight verbal chastisement should this be necessary. It is not, however, permissible to strike a child, or vilify him, for the child's character will be totally perverted if he be subjected to blows or verbal abuse.7

The Research Department has been unable to find anything to amplify or confirm the account in question attributed to Dr. Baghdadi. On the other hand, as suggested in the earlier part of this memorandum, Mr. ___ may wish to consider other statements in the Writings relating to the subject of disciplining children. For example, in a letter dated 9 July 1939 to an individual, the Guardian offers the following commentary:

With regard to the statement attributed to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and which you have quoted in your letter regarding a "problem child": these statements of the Master, however true in their substance, should never be given a literal interpretation. 'Abdu'l-Bahá could have never meant that a child should be left to himself, entirely free. In fact Bahá'í education, just like any other system of education, is based on the assumption that there are certain natural deficiencies in every child, no matter how gifted, which his educators, whether his parents, schoolmasters, or his spiritual guides and preceptors, should endeavour to remedy. Discipline of some sort, whether physical, moral or intellectual, is indeed indispensable, and no training can be said to be complete and fruitful if it disregards this element. The child when born is far from being perfect. It is not only helpless, but actually is imperfect, and even is naturally inclined towards evil. He should be trained, his natural inclinations harmonized, adjusted and controlled, and if necessary suppressed or regulated, so as to ensure his healthy physical and moral development. Bahá'í parents cannot simply adopt an attitude of non-resistance towards their children, particularly those who are unruly and violent by nature. It is not even sufficient that they should pray on their behalf. Rather they should endeavour to inculcate, gently and patiently, into their youthful minds such principles of moral conduct and initiate them into the principles and teachings of the Cause with such tactful and loving care as would enable them to become "true sons of God" and develop into loyal and intelligent citizens of His Kingdom. This is the high purpose which Bahá'u'lláh Himself has clearly defined as the chief goal of every education.

And in a letter dated 3 March 1932 written on his behalf, Shoghi Effendi cautions parents not to subject their children to a discipline either stifling or rigid:

Concerning the education of ..., Shoghi Effendi believes that you should avoid too rigid a discipline. Certain boys die in spirit if they are put under pressure and strict regulations. Our object is to help him develop those powers that God has laid in him.

6 "God Passes By" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1995), pp. 248-9.
7 "Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá", paragraph 95.2 {Ed. - p. 125}.

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Moreover, in a letter of 12 August 1975 written on its behalf, the Universal House of Justice emphasizes the need for wisdom and parental discretion in the use of corporal punishment:

As to your question about the use of physical punishment in child training, although there is a Tablet of the Master which considers beating as not permissible, this does not necessarily include every form of corporal punishment. In order to have a full grasp of the Master's attitude towards punishment, one has to study all His Tablets in this respect. For the time being, no hard and fast rule can be laid down, and parents must use their own wise discretion in these matters until the time is ripe for the principles of Bahá'í education of children to be more clearly elucidated and applied.

Finally, it is important to remember that not only are there different forms of discipline--"physical, moral, or intellectual", as described above by Shoghi Effendi--but in order to be truly effective, parental discipline needs to be practiced together with other valuable approaches to the training of children that are mentioned in our Writings. Perusal of the compilation on "Bahá'í Education", for example, will reveal many guidelines in this regard.8

6. Táhirih as "Women Suffrage Martyr"

Mr. ___ provides two brief quotations of Shoghi Effendi about Táhirih. It seems to him that in the first quotation the Guardian states that he would not call her the first suffragette and in the second he seems to do so. For clarity, we provide the quotations in question below in bold with some of the context in which they occur:

(a) He feels that the projected radio broadcasts are of the utmost importance as they afford you an opportunity of bringing to many listeners a sense of the greatness of the Cause. In this connection he has some advice to give you: You should stick carefully to facts and beware of putting any interpretations of facts into it. Your best sources are "Nabíl's Narrative" and Martha Root's book on Táhirih, as far as she is concerned, and, of course the general literature of our Faith. The Guardian advises you not to introduce into a series for public consumption anything obscure or mystical. By all means avoid the scene in the Presence of Bahá'u'lláh between Táhirih and Quddús. Her separation from her husband and children, her teaching in Baghdád, her imprisonment and death, and her poems, make a beautiful and moving tale. He would not call her the first suffragette, for this certainly was strictly speaking no part of her concept.

(5 November 1949 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a group of individuals)

(b) Thus ended the life of this great Bábí heroine, the first woman suffrage martyr, who, at her death, turning to the one in whose custody she had been placed, had boldly declared: "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."

("God Passes By", p. 75)

It seems to the Research Department that a consideration of the context and meanings of the terms "suffragette" and "suffrage" may help to clarify the intention of each quotation. The term "suffragette", meaning one who militantly agitates for the extension of the right to vote to

8 "A Compilation on Bahá'í Education", compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, August 1976).

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women, would appear to be a misnomer when applied to Táhirih. A review of the outstanding accomplishments of her life of service to the Cause, contained in "God Passes By", pages 72-77, clearly indicates that the direct advocacy of suffrage for her sex was "strictly speaking no part of her concept".

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that quotation (b) concludes the same discussion in "God Passes By" cited above. This discussion clarifies that though Táhirih was not actively and directly involved in advocating woman's suffrage, by proclaiming the advent of the New Day with its values of peace and unity, by transcending cultural constraints, by active involvement in the dramatic Conference at Badasht, she was participating in the initiation of a process that was to bring about a revolutionary transformation in human society, a transformation which, given further impetus by the Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, would, among other things, lead to the emancipation of women and include the right of women to vote and to participate in social decision-making. Her martyrdom served to underline the importance of the new Revelation and to stimulate interest in the situation of women.

Attachment [compilation "On the Naming of Babies"]

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