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Abstract:
Religious and cultural meanings of martyrdom/witnessing, and their role in Babi history.
Notes:
Thesis submitted for Master of Arts for the Dept. of Religious Studies (University of Toronto), 1997. Advisor Willard Oxtoby.

All diacritics have been removed. Remarks made on transliteration and examples given in the preface will thus make little sense.

Where the original thesis contained Arabic, Persian, or Greek script, I have had to remove these. The resulting lacunae are indicated by "[non-ascii script]."

See also my coverage of Jihad in Sunni and contemporary Islam Martyrdom in Jihad, and Scientific Panel Investigating Nine-Eleven.


Dying for God:
Martyrdom in the Shii and Babi Religions

by Jonah Winters

Master of Arts thesis, University of Toronto, 1997
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Contents

Preface..................................................................1
   Terminology...........................................................1
   Transliteration.......................................................1

Introduction.............................................................7

Chapter One: Background To Shiism: Martyrdom and Suffering in Islam.....11
   Martyrdom In Jihad...................................................11
   Jihad In Sufism, The "Greater Striving"..............................19

Chapter Two: Martyrdom And Suffering In Shiism..........................23
   Background: Muhammad and the Succession..............................23
   Martyrdom In Shiism..................................................26
     The Martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali....................................27
     Later developments: the Twelfth Imam...............................31
     Vicarious suffering in the path of God: Muharram...................34
   Meanings of Suffering in Shiism......................................37
     Sufferings of the community........................................38
        Persian historical suffering....................................39
        Persian cultural suffering......................................40
     Identification with Husayn to vitalize personal religiosity........43
     Intercession through redemptive suffering and martyrdom............48

Chapter Three: Background to Babism: A Brief Epitome of Babi History....55
   From Shiism to Babism................................................55
   Overview of Babi History.............................................59

Chapter Four: Meanings of Martyrdom in Babi Thought.....................77
   Parallels with Other Historical Martyrdoms...........................79
     Ismael.............................................................80
     Christ.............................................................81
     Imam Husayn........................................................83
        Imam Husayn in the thought of the Bab...........................83
        Imam Husayn in the thought of the Babis.........................88
   Martyrdom as Kerygma: For Conversion and as Proof....................92
     Witnessing as Proselytization......................................93
     Witnessing as Proof...............................................101
   The Intoxicated Martyr..............................................108
   Babi Jihad: Martyrdom in the Path of the Mahdi......................114
     The Bab as Mahdi and Leader of Jihad..............................114
     Martyrdom in the Cause of the Mahdi...............................118

Conclusion.............................................................123
   Historical Evolution and Continuum Of Themes........................123
   Summation of the Meanings of Martyrdom..............................125
   Conclusion..........................................................127
   Prospectus..........................................................129

Bibliography...........................................................131

Companion study: Martyrdom in Jihad: Jihad in Sunni and contemporary Islam
   (written before and not addressing 9/11)


PREFACE

TERMINOLOGY

(note: this section uses a number of special characters which I couldn't reproduce
with 1997 fonts for this online version; in footnote 7, for example, the words are indeed different.)


      While Bahais refer to their religion as the "Bahai Faith," this is perhaps not the most felicitous term for academic use. Other terms one encounters are Bahai community, Bahaism, Bahai (used as a generic noun), and Bahai religion. "Bahai community" focuses on the members, individually or collectively, and de-emphasizes the doctrinal and leadership aspects of the tradition. "Bahai Faith" is the traditional term that Bahais use for their religion and therefore conveys overtones of piety or sympathetic appreciation for the tradition. "Bahaism" is considered inappropriate by Bahais, for reasons that are not easy to determine; it is best avoided by scholars, just as "Mohammedanism" is now avoided in favor of the term "Islam" and "Musselman" or "Moslem" are avoided in favor of "Muslim." "Bahai" used as a generic noun, as in "Bahai teaches that...," is simply incorrect, for the word Bahai is an adjective. "Bahai religion," as a neutral term which carries the overtones of impartial scholarly study, has therefore been selected here.

      The terms Shiah and Shii are, in common English usage, to a certain extent interchangeable and sometimes seem to be chosen arbitrarily. In Arabic, Shiah is the (uninflected) noun and Shii is the (nisba) adjective. Here they will be used accordingly. "Shiah Islam" and "Shiism" are the two English terms used here to refer to this branch of Islam in toto.


TRANSLITERATION

      Certain circumstances in early and contemporary Bahai scholarship necessitate an unusually lengthy note on the diacritics and the system of transliteration used in this work.[1]

      Adopting a system for transliteration of Arabic and Persian words is singularly difficult. A preface to the Encyclopaedia Iranica summarizes the issue eloquently:

...The major problem in Iranian studies results from the difficulty of coordinating the representation of Persian and Arabic words. The system which has found fairly wide acceptance [i.e. that used by the Library of Congress[2] ]...does not entirely suit the rendering of Persian. On the other hand, a scheme designed for Persian does not fit Arabic. Yet so many Arabic words, titles, and phrases are intimately involved in Persian usage that the employment of two systems would lead only to chaos. Unfortunately, no amount of ingenuity can devise a system ideal for rendering both Persian and Arabic..."[3]

      In Bahai scholarship the problem is further compounded by other issues, including:

      1) While most systems of transcription portray only a word's spelling (transliteration), the Bahai system, under a strong Persian historical and cultural influence, has been used to portray pronunciation as well. For example, on the one hand Bahai texts use the correct transliteration Baghdad and not Bagdad, as it is actually pronounced by anglophones. On the other hand, these same texts use the common Persian pronunciation Kitab-i-Aqdas in place of its correct Arabic title al-Kitab al-Aqdas.

      2) Certain words that are pronounced with an "a" sound are written with an "i." Thus "sayyed," which is pronounced "sigh-ed," is written "siyyid." One likely explanation, confirmed by many who knew Shoghi Effendi--the great-grandson of Baha'ullah and systematizer of Bahai transliteration--is that he spoke Persian with an Isfahani accent, passed down from Shoghi Effendi's Isfahani grandmother Munirih Khanum.[4]

      3) The Bahai system of transliteration seems to contain some inconsistencies. Examples include: (1) when a word ending in hamza is more commonly associated with the Persian, as in bahá, the hamza is dropped. However, when the word is more commonly associated with the Arabic, as in asmá', the hamza is retained; (2) the nominative case-ending of Arabic, u, has become frozen in the Bahai system, as in the Arabic name 'Abdu'l-Bahá. In Arabic, though, the name would be 'Abdi'l-Bahá when used as genitive and 'Abda'l-Bahá when accusative. Hence the Library of Congress transliteration system, which would write 'Abd al-Bahá, indicates no case ending; (3) the apostrophe has been pressed into signifying different elements. It is used both for ayn, as in 'Alí, for hamza, as in asmá', and elision, as in ...u'l-Bahá. Other systems utilize different characters, for example c for ayn and ’ for hamza, and ' for elision. Further, the apostrophe as elision marker indicates the removal of different letters--in 'Abdu'l-Bahá it indicates the dropping of the 'a' in ...al-Bahá, but in Bahá'u'lláh, which in full would be Bahá'u al-lláh, it indicates the dropping of both the 'a' of al- and one 'l' of '-lláh' ( (in Arabic/Persian script the extra 'l' is indicated by a shadda, a "doubler," over the second 'l' of Alláh).

      4) Perhaps most compellingly, the Bahai system has become merely prescriptive, not descriptive. Accents and diacritics are completely ignored by anglophone Bahais. While North American believers write "khánum," they say "khanúm"; while they write "Bahá’í," they say "Ba-high." Indeed, most anglophone Bahais would not be able to pronounce these words as pronounced in Arabic, and perhaps not even as in Persian. For example, prefacing Abdul Baha with an ayn and ending it with a hamza, as in the full transliteration cAbdu'l-Bahá’, thus becomes superfluous and confusing.

      5) Despite the above difficulties, most Bahai books and especially those produced by official Bahai publishing houses use the standard transliteration scheme, which was standardized for Bahai-published texts in the late 1920's and has remained constant to this day. Thus, while Bahais may not know why they are writing accents and apostrophes, what Arabic letters they denote, and how properly to pronounce them, they are used to writing these diacritics. The style of English chosen by Shoghi Effendi (quasi-Jacobean) and its system of diacritics have, for the Bahai community, come to be an expected quality of the sacred writings--these indicate that the text is a sacred Bahai work, and it can appear sacrilegious to write Baha' Allah or Baha'ullah when one has learned that the sacred name is Bahá'u'lláh.

      The use of the transliteration system adopted by Shoghi Effendi works well for the average book for Bahais and on Bahai subjects. Almost any word or name one will use has its own unique--if occasionally inconsistent--orthography, and one can always consult Marzieh Gail's A Bahá'í Glossary[5] to find this correct orthography. An academic work, though, will often use names and terms not mentioned in Bahai writings and may also need to transliterate Arabic and Persian sentences. Here some scholars find it more simple, and easier for the non-Bahai reader (and perhaps the Bahai as well), to adopt one of the systems that have become standard in the current academic community.

      For the purpose of this study we are concerned with religious behaviour and belief--it is not a heavily textual or philological work. It would thus be unnecessarily cumbersome and distracting to include full diacritics where not absolutely necessary. For example, since the average reader is not going to care what kind of "h" Husayn is spelled with, is not going to mentally pronounce an ayn, and does not know the appropriate amount to lengthen a ya over a kesra, writing Husayn Ali as Husayn cAlí would be of interest only to those familiar with Arabic or Persian--and such a reader would know how properly to pronounce the names whether or not diacritics are supplied.[6] This study will use almost no diacritics in the body of the text, save where deemed absolutely necessary to prevent confusion. All diacritics have also been stripped from names and quotations; while this does a certain injustice to the originals, the great variety of transliteration schemes encountered in using works from a variety of Western languages, periods, and house styles would prove quite distracting were all quotations to be cited exactly as given in the original.[7] Similarly the spelling of names has been standardized; for example "Hussain," "Hossein," "Huseyn," and other such variations are all given as "Husayn." The only exception is names whose transliteration has been set into English by the authors themselves, as for example "Shoghi Effendi" instead of "Shoqi Effendi," "Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani" instead of Mirza Abu al-Fazl Golpaygani.

      Words will be written more or less as commonly pronounced in English or Persian, save where their technical meaning may be of interest, in which case the Library of Congress system of transliteration will be supplied in parenthesis or footnotes. Both Bahai and non-Bahai terms will be treated in this fashion: e.g. ulama for culama’, rauza for rawdah, etc. For the sake of legibility hamzas and ayns will also be dropped, even though these are consonants proper and not diacritics. They will be retained only where needed to demonstrate dieresis, as in "Baha'ullah" and "Qa'im."

The alteration of the most common Bahai terms as used in this work is as follows:

Abdul Baha: Abbas Effendi, 1844-1921. Eldest son of Baha'ullah. (Spelled here as commonly pronounced.)
Bahai: A believer in this faith. (Spelled here as commonly pronounced.)
Baha'ullah: Mirza Husayn Ali, 1817-1892, founder of the Bahai Faith. (Spelled here as commonly pronounced; apostrophe indicates dieresis--vowels are pronounced separately, not as a diphthong.)


Notes to this chapter

[1] Issues of transliteration have been discussed extensively in the academic Bahai community. Discussions in print include Moojan Momen, "The Bahá'í System of Transliteration," Bahá'í Studies Bulletin 5:1-2 (January 1991): 13-69, and Frank Lewis, "Review of Symbol and Secret," Bahá'í Studies Review 6 (1996): 76-92.

[2] Outlined in the Library of Congress Cataloguing Service Bulletin 49 (November 1958). Other major publications using this standard include the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the Encyclopaedia Iranica, and the Encyclopedia of Islam.

[3] Encyclopaedia Iranica, volume 1, ed. Ehsan Yarshater (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985).

[4] Related by Dhikru'llah Khadem and confirmed by Abu'l-Qasim Afnan and Ali Nakhjavani. Moojan Momen, "The Bahá'í System of Transliteration," 16.

[5] Marzieh Gail, Bahá'í Glossary: A Glossary of Persian and Arabic Words Appearing in the Bahá'í Writings (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1965).

[6] A similar trend is witnessed within Persian itself, as Arabic spellings are more and more frequently substituted for simpler, Persianized ones. For example, [non-ascii script], Tehran, is now more commonly written as  [non-ascii script], Tehran.

[7] E.g. one encounters Bahá'í, Bahai, Bahá'í, Bahá'í, Behai, Beha'i, Bahäi, Bahâ'i, and others.
(Note: the diacritics on these words in the hardcopy of my thesis didn't all translate into html)


INTRODUCTION

      No religion is founded in a vacuum. The Bahai concept of "progressive revelation" teaches that there is only one God who has communicated with humanity through a variety of Prophets. Each of the world's major religions, the Bahai Faith explains, has been founded by one of God's prophets who, appearing at different times and in different cultures, delivered divine teachings specifically tailored for that time and culture. Each prophet communicates with his followers using language that they understand and employs cultural themes and theological symbols familiar to that audience.[8]

      The Bab and Baha'ullah each began their missions in nineteenth-century Iran, a distinctly Shii society. Each delivered his teachings in the languages native to the regions--Persian and Arabic--and employed symbols, metaphors, and historical allusions familiar to an Islamic audience to communicate his teachings. Largely because of this continuity, Bahais often speak of Islam being the parent religion of the Bahai Faith in the same way that Judaism is the parent of Christianity. This analogy is largely apt. More specifically, though, while the religion of Islam taken as a whole may color the background of Bahai theology and much of Iranian Bahai culture, it is uniquely Shii Islam which informs and in places even defines the Bahai religion.

      Though the Bahai Faith as commonly encountered and presented in the West may reflect little of its Islamic Shii origins, they are quite evident in Babi and Bahai history and thought, from the earliest days of the religions--e.g. the founder of the former titling himself a "Bab"--to diverse contemporary aspects which the religions share in common--e.g. the Covenant, pilgrimage to the houses of the founders,[9] and models of leadership.[10] One evident tie between Shii, Babi, and Bahai belief is the martyrdom of Imam Husayn. This particular episode has proven so powerful a theme that it has served as the single most dominant shaper of Shii identity and has been commemorated, celebrated, and emulated for 1,300 years and by all three distinct religions.

      By the third century A.H. the events at Karbala--the history of the death Muhammad's grandson, Husayn--(see chapter three, below) had become elaborated upon and systematized to the point that a variety of historical details and theological propositions had become fused into one coherent, distinct, and powerfully meaningful symbological set, a set which we might simply denominate Karbala (the place of Husayn's death), or Ashura (the date of Husayn's death). The Bab and Baha'ullah both made extensive use of this set of symbolism as a dominant motif, a vehicle for transmitting aspects of their own theological, ethical, and social teachings; for motivating their followers to action where necessary; and for explaining certain theological concepts such as the meaning of resurrection, proper types of social interaction and service, and the nature of theodicy. However, each figure, while retaining the broad connotations of Karbala, molded its nuances to transmit his own unique set of teachings and to inform his unique mission.

      There is a number of such coherent sets of symbols, one might say aggregated motifs, which inform the Shii, Babi, and Bahai religions and which can be traced through the history of the three traditions. Examples could include mysticism, martyrdom, resurrection, prayer, war, revelation, Satan: each one of these thematic concepts and others similar can be followed through the history of all three. On the one hand the continuity of such themes can be traced in clear lines through the three religions, lending a certain familial relationship to all three. On the other hand there are clear discontinuities, by which one can better understand how the cultures and theologies of all three religions shift and evolve.

      Karbala, the most prominent of all such aggregated motifs for Shiism, provides one of the best themes by which to trace continuities and discontinuities from Iranian Shiism, through Babism, and culminating in the Bahai Faith. By following such developments the relationships and interactions between the traditions and, as a Bahai would say, the evolution of religion can better be understood.

      This study will use the event of Karbala--the set of the themes of suffering and martyrdom, the person of Husayn, the functions of "witnessing" and redemption--as one possible vehicle by which to trace continuities and discontinuities through the Shii, Babi, and Bahai religions. This will help demonstrate how the three traditions share a common history and set of symbolical motifs to form a better understanding of how the three both share a family relation but at the same time are distinct religions using common symbols in distinct ways.

      First the general history and meaning of martyrdom in Islam will be presented, followed in the next chapter by a discussion of its configurations more specific to Iranian Shiism. It is necessary to present this background in a fair bit of detail, for the topic of martyrdom in Islam is far more than a simple one-third of an examination of martyrdom in the three religions of Shiism, Babism, and the Bahai Faith: the Islamic background will be seen to be key for understanding the Babi and Bahai traditions. A discussion of the theme of suffering in the writings of the Bab and the ways in which his followers regarded martyrdom will follow. These will all provide sufficient background to begin analyzing the meanings of the symbols of suffering and martyrdom in the Bahai religion, which will be undertaken in a future study.


Notes to this chapter

[8] See Robert H. Stockman, "progressive revelation," in A Short Encyclopedia for the Bahá'í Faith (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, forthcoming).

[9] Though pilgrimage to the houses of the Bab and Baha'ullah are enjoined for those with means (K32, Q25, Q29, Note 54), it is commonly substituted for by a visit to the "Arc," the Bahai world centre and tomb of the Bab in Haifa, Israel.

[10] See Linda Walbridge, "Reforming the Marja` at-Taqlid: the Bahá'í Example," unpublished paper, 1996. Accessed from the internet: Linkname "Reforming the Marja Taqlid"; URL http://bahai-library.com/walbridge_reforming_marja_taqlid.

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