Correspondence re Aqdas, Sentence #4

(From an earlier discussion)
Date: Thu, 6 Apr 1995
From: Juan R Cole
Subject: KIA K2

"They whom God hath endued with insight will readily recognize that the precepts laid down by God constitute the highest means for the maintenance of order in the world and the security of its peoples."
"the maintenance of order in the world" translates naz.m al-`alam. Naz.ama means to set in order. The nineteenth century context of the term includes very importantly the "tanzimat" reforms of the Ottoman Empire. Tanzim is derived from from the intensive form of naz.ama, and means "reform, re-organization." The -at is an Arabic feminine plural. The entire period from 1826 to 1878 (and for some, even later) is characterized by Ottoman reformers as the Tanzimat. These reforms eliminated many semi-feudal practices, broke up guilds, abolished the remnants of the slave-army, and led to greater centralization of governmental and bureaucratic power. The Reform Rescript (islahat fermani) of 1856, after the Crimean War, recognized non-Muslim subjects of the Ottoman Empire as full citizens, and eliminated the legal disabilities Islamic law had placed upon Christians and Jews as "protected" (dhimmi) minorities.

One context for this verse then, is that Baha'u'llah is aligning His revelation with the progressive reform (nazm, tanzim) of Islamic law and society. And many of his laws accord with the Tanzimat (there is also no category of "protected religious minority" in Baha'i law--rather there is freedom of conscience and full civil rights for all).

But, of course, he is also critiquing the efforts of reformers by insisting that the ultimate foundation for *successful* reform must be this revelation from God. We have seen in the past 15 years how all the work of persons analogous to the Tanzimat reformers and their successors has in some countries been swept away by Islamic revivalists. Iran and Sudan, e.g., now once again have dhimmis or "protected" minorities, and Baha'is are persecuted as having no place in Islamic law.

It is clear in the Tablet to the Kings (c. late 1867, Edirne) that Baha'u'llah found quite annoying the Ottoman elite's pride in their Tanzimat, their lurch toward positivism, and their conviction that everything was just wonderful. He on the other hand thought the Tanzimat (which he appears to have referred to as the usul or "principles" of the Ottomans) did not go nearly far enough. They did not counter-act increasing materialism, militarism, class stratification, etc. Later, in 1868, Baha'u'llah started criticizing the Ottoman status quo for not having gone far enough in the direction of parliamentary democracy (which Aali and Fuad Pasha and Sultan Abdulaziz all opposed). Remember that Baha'u'llah had been in the Ottoman empire since 1853; had been discussing politics with Ottoman notables in Baghdad coffehouses and Edirne private homes; had been reading the newspapers of the day and probably some printed books of a reformist nature; and in general can be thought of as having a serious context in Ottoman intellectual history. Like Rousseau, who both contributed to and critiqued from within European modernity, Baha'u'llah affirmed key elements of Ottoman modernity while powerful critiquing others. Still, there is no doubt, in the contest between reformist government and its enemies among the Muslim clergy and reactionary nobles, where Baha'u'llah's sympathies lay.

I am not saying that the *only* context for the phrase "order of the world" is the Tanzimat reforms, but that it strikes me as *an* important context. I also think the English, in using "maintenance" is being too conservative; "ordering the world" can be a dynamic and processual activity.

[For those interested in this context, I recommend Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (in paper); Serif Mardin, The Young Ottomans; and Bernard Lewis The Political Language of Islam. Ami Ayalon's book on changes in the meaning of Arabic political vocabulary in the 19th century is also important.

cheers, Juan Cole, History, Univ. of Michigan

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