`Abdu'l-Bahá's Risalih-'i Siyasiyyih or Treatise on Leadership (as I think it should be translated) was written in 1891-92 during the Tobacco Revolt in Iran. The Tobacco Revolt, 1890-92, was a popular insurrection against Nasiru'd-Din Shah for his having granted a monopoly on the marketing of Iranian tobacco to a British carpetbagger. It was among the first truly national protest movements, uniting merchants, money lenders, tobacco farmers and the Shi`ite religious leadership in opposition to this give-away of Iranian resources.
The Treatise was published in Bombay in 1892 and was the first policy statement of `Abdu'l-Bahá upon taking the reins of the leadership of the Bahá'í community. It shows his alarm at the increasing involvement of religious leaders and communities in this populist movement against the civil Iranian state, and cites the way past such religious populist movements have led to foreign intervention or increased absolutism (i.e. the `Urabi Revolt in Egypt and the 1876 Constitutional Revolution in Istanbul). `Abdu'l-Bahá argues forcefully for a separation of religion and state as a basis for Bahá'í non-involvement in such anti-state violence.
I myself see the Treatise as, in many ways, a reversal of the stances adopted by Bahá'u'lláh in his 1891 Tablet to the World (also a response to the Tobacco Revolt), which denounced Qajar tyranny and severely counselled the Shah that only calling a parliament on the British model could hope to save him from such popular turmoil, which was provoked by his high-handed authoritarian approach to rule. `Abdu'l-Bahá, on the contrary, seems to have had (provisionally) a more Prussian than a British model of ideal governance in mind (as did many Ottoman thinkers of the 1890s), and for him strengthening the civil state against the encroachments of groups like the radical clergy took precedence over any democratic imperative, for the time being. Decisive was his view that democratic movements in the Middle East of the time tended to weaken the indigenous state so fatally that they opened the way to European colonization--something he was desperate to see Iran avoid. It appears to me that this shift to the Right in `Abdu'l-Bahá's thinking resulted from the disappointments in Istanbul and Egypt of 1878-1882. (A movement for parliamentary democracy in Egypt 1878-1882 had led to turmoil and finally to British invasion and occupation). `Abdu'l-Bahá indirectly refers to these events in the Treatise.
The "Treatise on Leadership" or Risalih-i-Siyasiyyih appears to have been written by `Abdu'l-Bahá during the Tobacco Revolt of 1890-1892 in Iran. It was published in Bombay in 1893/1311. To my knowledge it was only published once again after that, in Tehran, by private hands (Muhammad Labib), in the early 1930s. It was translated into French by Hippolyte Dreyfus early in the 20th century, but his translation remained in manuscript. Therefore, this work has been completely absent from Western Bahá'í culture and consciousness, and even has largely been absent from the consciousness of Bahá'ís in the Middle East.
The Tobacco Revolt broke out because Nasiru'd-Din Shah granted a monopoly on the marketing of Iranian tobacco to a British entrepreneur, Major Talbot, in return for royalties (and apparently some bribes). The monopoly hurt Iranian tobacco merchants, money lenders, and farmers, and provoked widespread protests throughout Iran, in all the major cities. The newly laid telegraph lines allowed the dissidents to coordinate with one another between cities. The merchants built alliances in the revolt to the modern intellectuals, such as Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din al-Afghani and Aqa Khan Kirmani, as well as to some of the Shi`ite ulama. The latter worried about Western influence over Iran weakening Islam, and were outraged that the Shah's troops would mistreat or even expel Sayyids or descendants of the Prophet who protested the actions of local British Tobacco company officials. It has never been possible for me to find out what role if any the Bahá'í community played in the revolt in Iran. Certainly, large numbers of Bahá'í merchants and tobacco farmers would have been hurt by the British monopoly. Two prominent Bahá'ís were arrested during the revolt, but apparently they had nothing to do with it. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, a secret Bahá'í, does appear to have been imprisoned during the Revolt, in the Nadiri fortress near Mashhad, and he may have played a role in the early stages of the rebellion (so I`timadu's-Saltanih implies).
In my view, the "Treatise" is a complex document that makes the strongest case for the separation of religion and state ever made in a Middle Eastern context, and is in that respect reminiscent of Hobbes, Locke and Jefferson. I believe that the work also represents a reversal of some of Bahá'u'lláh's attitudes and policies. Bahá'u'lláh had insisted repeatedly on parliamentary democracy in his own response to the Tobacco Revolt, The Tablet of the World. He also condemned Qajar tyranny and complained that Nasiru'd-Din Shah not only hadn't called a parliament but did not even have an agricultural policy. He indicated that both absences were at the root of the revolt. `Abdu'l-Bahá moves away from this insistence on parliamentarism to a more Prussian view of the need for all subjects to support the monarch and to strengthen the state against external enemies and against theocratic forces within, who threaten to fatally weaken it. In making this shift, `Abdu'l-Bahá radically reinterprets the earlier Bahá'í vision of 19th century Middle Eastern history, as we shall see.
Thanks to Sen, Bill and Peter for their comments [not included here].
1) I think Sen's reading of Dreyfus is nuanced and correct. Remember that Dreyfus was living at the time in the hyper-Jacobin Third Republic, and that politicians who attended mass regularly were not eligible to serve on the French Cabinet. It was this governmental commitment to positivism that he was dissatisfied with, not the general idea of a separation between the religious institution(s) and the civil state.
2) Bill's question about `Abdu'l-Bahá's views of the sovereignty of the state is a very good one but I am not sure how to answer it. He did rule out the intervention of religious institutions in the affairs of state, and as you say he expresses this as a universal 'good' or normative value, for all times and places. Obviously, he did not approve of theocracies. I'm not sure, however, that this position would rule out secular forces working to change an unjust government. `Abdu'l-Bahá advocated a parliament in his Secret of Divine Civilization, in a book published in Bombay in 1882 and illicitly smuggled back into Iran, an action that was quite illegal in the Ottoman and Qajar empires of the time. But he did so in an anonymous book that did not represent itself as being from a religious leader. Later, around 1907, he even instructed the Bahá'ís to try to elect some of their members to the Iranian Majlis or parliament, which had by then been established (he seems to have had quite different rules for people living under absolute monarchies and those living in Republics, as he indicated in letters to the U.S. community). But `Abdu'l-Bahá's emphasis on peace and love and avoidance of contention did set him against revolution, and it seems to me that some of the same contradictions were there in his stance as in the stance of the Quakers in the 13 colonies during the Revolutionary War, whom Tom Paine criticizes for their unwillingness to support the revolution. In times of revolution against tyranny, pacifism looks an awfully lot like reactionary politics. (I say this as one who is a conscientious objector).
3) To Peter Terry I would say that `Abdu'l-Bahá's distinction between the "tashri`" of the religious bodies and the executive power of the state is not identical to a distinction between the legislative and executive branches of government. Although in 20th century Arabic tashri` did come to mean legislation even by civil parliaments, `Abdu'l-Bahá is using it in an older and technical sense to mean "deciding on the import of the shari`ah or religious law." I can prove this from passages later in the Treatise on Leadership, when we get there. `Abdu'l-Bahá contrasts this function of religious institutions in tashri` or ruling on the meaning of the religious law, from all civil government, including both the executive branch of the state and the legislative branch. When speaking of civil legislation, he uses the word qanun or civil law, not shari`ah.
He expected shari`ah to govern its sphere, but to be supplemented by qanun or civil law, passed by civil parliaments. Remember that the Aqdas doesn't actually have all that much law in it, so that for a whole society to function there would have to be substantial civil legislation (taqnin) in addition to it.
`Abdu'l-Bahá believed that a good government was one that honored the rights of its subjects and ruled with justice. Of course it should also honor the revealed law in spheres where that was applicable. But for both Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, the touchstone of whether a state was legitimate was not how religious it was, but how just it was. `Abdu'l-Bahá believed that the Tobacco Revolt of 1891-1892 was unfair to Nasiru'd-Din Shah, whereas he believed that the later Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1907 had at least some legitimate goals.
If a state that incorporated the religious law into its civil laws and implemented them were a theocracy, then the U.S. is a theocracy or at least has been at some points in its history. The Ten Commandments, after all, were incorporated into Anglo-Saxon civil law. I'm unaware that the Bahá'í scriptures ever use the word theocracy, and as far as I can tell its holy figures were opposed to most features of the systems that historians have refer to as theocratic (contemporary Iran is a theocracy, e.g.).
I also struggled over whether it was va lulih or valvalih . The typography of the 1934 edition supports va lulih since the typesetter has left a clear space after the vav (p. 3). Moreover, if lulih can be used to refer to the sort of water pipes in which tobacco was smoked, then in this particular case it was the lulih that caused the valvalih in the first place. :-)
It is also possible that this is a visual pun that can be read both ways simultaneously.
With regard to Peter Terry's question as to whether the strong anti-clericalism of this treatise may help account for its having not been kept available to the Bahá'ís, I really cannot answer the question. There is a fair amount of anticlericalism throughout the Bahá'í scriptures, so one wonders if this was really the crucial factor. Ahang Rabbani or Iskandar Hai might know better what were the internal dynamics in Iran affecting this text.
In the next section of the text, `Abdu'l-Bahá establishes the need in human society for the faculty (quvvih) of leadership. Leadership, in turn, he says, is of two sorts. There is civil leadership, exercised by kings, ministers, generals, etc. And there is religious leadership, exercised by prophets, saints, the religiously learned, and so forth.
`Abdu'l-Bahá's theory of civil and religious leadership being always properly differentiated and complementary contradicts the theocratic sentiment in Shi`ite Islam and in the Babi heritage. It accords with Bahá'u'lláh's own vision, since the latter in many passages condemned theocracy and insisted that religion only wanted men's hearts, whereas rule was left to kings and civil parliaments. Moreover, it has two other contexts. Said Amir Arjomand has demonstrated in his Turban for the Crown that many Shi`ite religious thinkers in the Qajar period (19th century) also held that the state and the religious institution were different and complementary, like two wings of a bird. This is explicit in [Mulla Ja`far Kashfi], and is a specifically Qajar formulation of the relationship of religion and state. Of course, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá are arguing for a far stricter wall between religion and state than did [Kashfi]. That brings us to the other context. `Abdu'l-Bahá was familiar with the U.S. conception of the separation of religion and state from many sources, including Draper (a professor at New York University who wrote on the rise of European civilization). Indeed, Draper argued that the separation of religion and state set the stage for the end of medieval intellectual oppression and the beginning of 19th century progress. `Abdu'l-Bahá had made a similar argument (though it is subtly stated) in A Traveller's Narrative.
In this section, `Abdu'l-Bahá condemns the role of the Shi`ite religious leadership in the Tobacco Revolt of 1891-92. In an interview with a British consular official on October 29, 1891, Prime Minister Aminu's-Sultan said of the protests in Tabriz a few months earlier, "It is now proved that the mujtahid at Tabriz has played a greate mischief all through the late Regie [Tobacco Monopoly] disturbances, he had held communications with the Chief Mujtahid at Samara and the Ulemas of Mashad, and that he has secret communications with the Russian Consul-General at Tabriz." (Quoted in Keddie, Religion and Rebellion in Iran, pp. 66-67). Also in Shiraz, a leading clergyman, Sayyid `Ali Akbar, denounced the British monopoly over the marketing of tobacco from the pulpit. He was exiled by the Shah to Ottoman Baghdad, provoking further disturbances, since it was said in Shiraz that the shah had ostracized a scion of the Prophet for the sake of a British middle manager. In Isfahan, Aqa Muhammad Taqi Najafi Isfahani, whom Bahá'u'lláh branded the "son of the Wolf" because he and his father had persecuted the Bahá'ís, took the side of the Iranian merchants who were angry about the way the monopoly cut them out of tobacco marketing and also money-lending to the peasants for the purpose of putting in tobacco (Homa Natiq, Bazarganan, p. 299).
Nasiru'd-Din Shah and his prime minister, Aminu's-Sultan, were extremely unhappy with this clerical interference in affairs of state. In the passage below, `Abdu'l-Bahá delights in pointing out that the ulama had for decades painted the Babi-Bahá'í movement as a cause of sedition and as a constant danger to the Iranian state. But now the Shi`ite clergy themselves had become seditious, whereas, `Abdu'l-Bahá implies, the Bahá'ís were law-abiding, peaceful citizens.
`Abdu'l-Bahá also suggests that any economic hardship being felt by Iranians was in any case not because of the shah's own policies but because of those of his subordinates, and that, further, the turmoil of the revolt itself was bad for the economy, a downturn that could be laid at the feet of the seditious Shi`ite religious leaders.
He also seems to enunciate a somewhat secular policy that obedience to the state takes precedence over most obligations of religion. (This idea goes all the way back in Persian thought to the Zoroastrian Sassanian thinkers!)
On the substance, it is in fact clear that the Shah himself strongly backed the Tobacco Monopoly granted to Major Talbot, and the court received substantial royalties from the concession. It is therefore simply not true that the shah was blameless. As to whether the Tobacco Monopoly might not have been a good thing for Iran if it had been allowed to operate, I have my doubts. Its terms were more stringent and far more favorable to the Western concessioneers than the similar Ottoman Tobacco Regie. Most economists consider monopolies inefficient and costly to the consumer, as this one appears to have been. The monopoly certainly hurt significant sectors of the Iranian population, provoking country-wide coordinated urban disturbances for the first time since the Babi movement. `Abdu'l-Bahá, a pacifist, saw these disturbances and this opposition to the shah's policies as illegitimate. As we shall see, however, he did not conceive of the state as having no obligations to the citizenry, nor the citizenry as wholly lacking in rights. He simply did not approve of violent protest, and he opposed the interference of the religious institutions in the affairs of state--both major features of the Tobacco Revolt.
The central thesis of `Abdu'l-Bahá's "Treatise on Politics," that leadership in human societies is always divided between civil and religious leaders, and that each of these should stay out of the others' business, was not new with him in 19th century Iranian thought. In fact, it has deep roots in Qajar social and religious thought.
The alliance of the Qajar dynasty of Iran and the Shi`ite ulama was at that point a century old, and up until the Tobacco Revolt most members of both social orders would probably have said it was a success. Hajj Muhammad Na'ini, e.g., wrote from a Shi`ite clerical point of view on "the incumbency of monarchy," the need for monarchy in Shi`ite society (Arjomand, Shadow of God, p. 249). Although some ulama sometimes opposed the Shah's policies the vast majority of them never opposed his legitimacy.
In nineteenth-century Qajar Iran some of the clergy developed a theory of the state as having two wings, that of civil governance and that of religious learning. The sovereign in his own sphere of civil rulership and military action, and the clergy in their sphere of interpreting and implementing the sacred law, each represented an aspect of authority that had once been conjoined in the Imam.
Arjomand has translated some of the "Gift of Kings" by the clerical thinker, Sayyid Ja`far Kashfi (d. 1851): "Thus it becomes clear that the mujtahids and the rulers both hold the same office, which office is the office of imamate, transferred to them from the Imam through vicegerency, and consisting of two pillars [rukn]: knowledge of the prophetic matters, which is called religion; and the implementation of the same in the course of imposing order upon the world, which is termed kingship or sovereignty. These two pillars are also referred to as "the sword" and "the pen" or "the sword" and "knowledge." Both these pillars were found in combination in the imam... and they should similarly coexist in the person who is his deputy. But the 'ulama' and the mujtahids, because of the contention of the rulers with them leading to sedition and anarchy, have abandoned sovereignty and the organ of the sword. Similarly the rulers, be-cause of their inclination from the beginning of sovereignty toward the baser world--that is, mere worldly sovereignty consisting solely in the imposition of order in the world--have foregone the acquisition of the knowledge of religion and understanding of the prophetic matters, and have made do with the science of politics only. Thus, the function of vicegerency inevitably be-came divided between the 'ulama' and the rulers . . . In some ages, [the rulers and the ulama'] cooperated with mutual consensus and ruled and directed the subjects through partnership and cooperation .... At other times, they became mutually antagonistic and parted from each other. Consequently religion and sovereignty, which must be conjoint, became separated from each other. The knowledge of the ulama' and the endeavor of mujtahids became stagnant because of disorder. Similarly, the sovereignty of the rulers, because of its divorce from the upholding of religion and the traditions of the sacred law, became sheer sovereignty. The matter of politics and vicegerency... became disturbed, and both groups fell short of [discharging] the office of vicegerency . . . In these times when "knowledge" and the "sword" have become separated from each other, and knowledge is lodged with the 'ulama' and the mujtahids and the sword with the [political] leaders and the rulers, the instructions of he covenant which relate to the organ of knowledge and the conditions of the 'ulama' regard the mujtahids and men of knowledge; and those which relate to the organ of the sword and the affair of sovereignty and politics and order regard the kings and rulers. As we have mentioned, the rulers who act according to those clauses [of the covenant] which relate to and regard them is of course the "specified deputy" [na' ib-e kha.ss] of the Imam. Similarly, mujtahids who act according to those clauses which relate to and regard hem, of course they too are the "specified deputy" of the Imam. And this covenant is the proof of the "specified vicegerency" [niyabat-e khassa] of these two groups of men." (trans. Said Amir Arjomand, Shadow of God, pp. 225-227).
Kashfi saw the religious leaders as special representatives of the Imam solely in religious matters, and the civil rulers as special representatives of the Imam in military and civil rule. But most religious leaders would not have been willing to go so far, holding a theory that they were the general representatives of the Twelfth Imam. This had the effect of allowing a 'cohabitation' between the religious establishment and the state (which most did not valorize in the same way as had Kashfi). Only the specific representative of the Imam in both the religious and civil spheres would have had the right to rule as theocrat or Imam, and there was no specific representative of the Imam who had authority over both realms of human life. In fact, this was the danger posed by Shaykhism, Babism, and much later Khomeinism. In each of these latter movements, a specific representative of the Imam appeared to have been identified. Neither the Shaykhi leaders nor the Bab took that specific viceregency to the point of claiming the right to rule, but in the end Khomeini did.
`Abdu'l-Bahá in the "Treatise on Politics," to the contrary, denies that even the Imams were owed temporal rule, and insists that the sort of division discussed by Kashfi was the eternal and ever-present reality of human society.
Having set out his thesis that leadership is intrinsically of two incommensurate sorts, civil and religious, and that neither of the two should ever interfere in the legitimate sphere of the other, `Abdu'l-Bahá now turns to presenting a series of case studies to prove his point, drawn from Iranian, Ottoman, and sacred history.
The first case study involves the influence of the Shi`ite clergy at the end of the Safavid state, which was overthrown in 1722. Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1699,) the Shaykhu'l-Islam of Isfahan, and his grandson Mir Muhammad Husayn Majlisi are thought to have had a great deal of influence with the last Safavid shah, Sultan-Husayn (r. 1694-1722). At their instance, Sufis in the line of Mulla Muhsin Fayz Kashani were persecuted, thousands of Hindu merchants and moneylenders were expelled from Isfahan, and, it is asserted in the chronicles, the Sunni tribespeople of the Safavid empire's eastern territories, Baluchistan and what is now northern Afghanistan, were mistreated because they weren't Shi`ites. Since these Sunni tribespeople became increasingly upset with their treatment by the empire, and eventually overthrew it, `Abdu'l-Bahá suggests that the Majlisi policies toward them had not only been a mistake but a fatal mistake, and the shah would have been better off pursuing secular policies of even-handedness toward all religious communities in Iran. (`Abdu'l-Bahá had made these points at greater length earlier, in his Traveller's Narrative.)
After the Afghan invasion, there followed a confusing period of political turmoil lasting four decades, in which the country was the scene of repeated predations by pastoral nomadic tribes, in which the cities were emptied of much of their population, peasants fled, and Iran was thrown into a profound economic Depression. The Afghan presence in the leadership even raised the question of whether Iran might not revert to Sunnism, and the Shi`ite ulama fell on hard times indeed.
The second case study involves the rise of the Qajar dynasty. `Abdu'l-Bahá is in part making his remarks in hopes of winning over Nasiru'd-Din Shah, the crown prince, and other Qajar nobles to a favorable view of the Bahá'í faith, and in hopes of convincing them that the Shi`ite ulama are unreliable partners.
From 1764-1779, the Zand dynasty, based in Shiraz, restored a semblance of order to the country, and reestablished the strong links of patronage between the state and the Shi`ite ulama. But after 1779 another power struggle broke out. Aqa Muhammad Khan Qajar, the founder of the Qajar dynasty, challenged the Zands. He began by consolidating his hold over Mazandaran and then Gilan in the North. When he besieged Tehran, the notables of the town said they considered themselves under the Zand ruler who was then in Isfahan, and would surrender to Aqa Muhammad if he took that city. So he took Isfahan, and Tehran surrendered to him.
By 1785 the Qajars ruled most of Iran, but Shiraz and the south, where remaining Zand generals and pretenders to the throne continued to mount challenges, were often in rebellion. During the years Aqa Muhammad struggled to defeat the Zands and establish a new state, especially before it became apparent that he was going to win, the vast majority of townsmen appear to have sided with the Zands against him, and `Abdu'l-Bahá's assertion that these included the Shi`ite clergy is plausible. Some of the clerics, like Aqa Muhammad Baqir Bihbahani, had lived in southern Iran and so had probably developed ties of clientelage with the Zand rulers. There is a story that he once made a disrespectful remark to Aqa Muhammad Khan Qajar in Shiraz, when the latter was still under the control of the Zands, but that when the Qajar ruler met him in Tehran, he decided to make peace with him (Algar, Religion and State, p. 43.). Aqa Muhammad Khan Qajar at last defeated the final Zand pretender to the throne, Lutf `Ali Khan, in 1794 at Kirman. The Qajar dynasty thereafter ruled till 1925. In bringing up these events, `Abdu'l-Bahá is reminding Nasiru'd-Din Shah and the Qajar nobility generally that the Usuli ulama had initially sided with the opposing Zand dynasty.
`Abdu'l-Bahá's third case study in why "the leaders of the manifest religion and the pillars of the mighty divine law" must not intervene "in the world of political leadership" concerns the Jihad movement of the mid-1820s. Russian expansion into the Caucasus had brought large numbers of Muslims under tsarist rule, many of them very reluctant subjects of St. Petersburg. In some areas, such as Chechnya, the Russians pursued what can only be called a genocidal policy against the mountaineer guerrillas who opposed them [there is nothing new under the sun]. In the Russo-Iranian War of 1810-1813, Russia had defeated the Qajars and had detached the Azerbaijani provinces of Talish, Qarabagh, Baku and Shirvan, among others, from Iran. These former Iranian subjects, Shi`ite Muslims, chafed under Russian rule and their sporadic resistance was put down with brutality. Stories of this brutality circulated in Iran, enraging the populace there.
Increasingly in the 1820s, prominent members of the Shi`ite clerical hierarchy took up the call for a holy war or jihad against the Russians to push them back out of Azerbaijan. The Shi`ite religious leaders did not believe that they had the right to wage the holy war on their own, but that as general deputies of the Imam they could authorize the shah to do so. This movement, supported by heir apparent `Abbas Mirza, gained such momentum that it forced the hand of Fath-`Ali Shah, who went to war in 1826. Some of the ulama, like Agha Sayyid Muhammad Isfahani, rode with the army, but he and some other prominent ones left while the fighting was still going on. Sources sympathetic to the shah say that the ulama fled, whereas sources sympathetic to the ulama say that the shah and his son sent them away for fear of their gaining influence. The dedication of the clerics to anti-imperialism was apparently neither broad nor deep, when it came to their local interests. The ulama of Tabriz joined an anti-Qajar movement that involved opening the gates of Tabriz to the Russians in 1827 and cooperating with them; the Russians decided that they could not garrison such a large city and soon withdrew, and the Qajars recaptured it. `Abbas Mirza was bitter against the Shi`ite religious leaders he felt had betrayed him.
Fath-`Ali Shah very badly lost the war against the Russians, who gained new territories in Azerbaijan (Nakhchivan and Erivan/Armenia) and won a favorable settlement, with reparations, in the 1828 Treaty of Turkmanchai. The Russian army had superior weaponry, tactics, and discipline. Although `Abbas Mirza had attempted to reorganize the Iranian army--which had included an undisciplined tribal cavalry--along modern lines, his reforms had been too little too late. The Shi`ite religious leaders who talked Iran into a war against a superior enemy only brought themselves into disrepute. It was not until Nasiru'd-Din Shah acceded the throne as a young man in 1848, in the midst of the Babi uprisings, that he fully restored the Qajar partnership with the Shi`ite clerics, whom he felt he needed as bulwarks against the Babi "rabble."
The fourth case study `Abdu'l-Bahá offers from 19th century Middle Eastern history for the disastrous effects of the interference of religious leaders and institutions in civil government is the first Ottoman Constitutional Revolution of 1876 and the subsequent Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-78. `Abdu'l-Bahá notes that Sultan Abdulaziz (r. 1861-1876) was overthrown in a popular revolution in spring of 1876 by a political coalition that included the Muslim clergy and seminary students. After his deposition, Abdulaziz committed suicide, in late May 1876. After one of his sons turned out to be mentally unstable, he was succeeded later that summer by Sultan Abdulhamid II (r. 1876-1909), upon whom reformers initially imposed a constitution and a parliament.
In January, 1877, war broke out between the Ottomans and the Russians, and the war went very badly for the Ottomans; the Russians advanced through the Balkans, took Edirne/Adrianople, and threatened Istanbul. The losses of Ottoman troops and civilians were very high. (There is not a good book in English about this war, and there needs to be, by the way). The Great Powers brokered a peace in 1878 that involved substantial Ottoman relinquishment of territory in the Balkans at the Treaty of Berlin (Romania, Serbia and Montenegro went from being vassal states to being independent). In the aftermath of the war disaster, Sultan Abdulhamid took advantage of the country's demoralization to insist that it had been caused by the Constitutionalist movement, and he prorogued parliament and more or less suspended the Constitution, ruling as a despot until 1908, when the Young Turk movement forced him to restore both.
`Abdu'l-Bahá is correct that the religious leaders and seminary students did play a role in the spring, 1876, revolution against Abdulaziz. And no doubt they were on the jingoistic side during the war with Russia. But in other respects his account is problematic. First of all, religious forces were not the main impetus behind the First Ottoman Constitutional movement. It was mainly supported by intellectuals like the young Ottomans, as well as by reform-minded high officials such as Midhat Pasha. Sunni Muslim religious extremism may have played a role in the outbreak of the Russo-Ottoman war, insofar as massacres of Christians in the Balkans (against which Gladstone spoke out so forcefully in England) did figure in the restlessness of Christian-majority Ottoman vassal states in that region, which in turn forced Russia's hand. But it was not as if the Istanbul ulama launched a jihad against Russia. The account here seems patterned after the 1825-26 Jihad movement in Iran against Russia.
Second, `Abdu'l-Bahá's narrative demonstrates attitudes quite different from those he and Bahá'u'lláh exhibited at the time [and later]. Bahá'u'lláh had denounced Abdulaziz as a tyrant in the Lawh-i Fuad and in the Kitab-i Aqdas, and had predicted he would be deposed. In fact, Bahá'u'lláh's own comment on the fall of Abdulaziz was: "We have seized them all by means of our own sovereignty: thus was it revealed in the Tablet of Fuad. Blessed are those endued with insight. We seized the first [Ali Pasha, d. 1871] as we had avowed in the Book. And we seized the second [Sultan Abdulaziz, d. 1876] along with his courtiers, with a wrath at which the hearts of the profligate trembled. They awoke, and nothing could be heard in their palaces save an empty echo and the croaking of the raven." Bahá'u'lláh clearly did not see Abdulaziz as 'wronged' by the Revolution, but rather as having gotten his just deserts.
And `Abdu'l-Bahá in his 1875 Secret of Divine Civilization had been advocating precisely the sort of government, parliamentary and constitutional, that was established in 1876-1878, and it is difficult to believe that he was, at age 32, really dismayed at the advent of the First Ottoman Constitutional period. In this period he wrote to the reformer Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din "Afghani", "I read your splendid article printed in the newspaper Misr, which refuted some English newspapers. I found your replies in accord with prevailing reality, and your eloquence aided by brilliant proof. Then I came across a treatise by Midhat Pasa, the contents of which support your correct and magnificent article. So, I wanted to send it along to you." This was probably a response to Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din's articles condemning the Anglo-Afghan war. The Ottoman official Midhat Pasha was among the leading revolutionaries in 1876, was the first prime minister under the new system, and later met with `Abdu'l-Bahá in Beirut in 1879. It is not credible to me that `Abdu'l-Bahá had really viewed the revolution and constitutional period so unfavorably in the mid-1870s, though he may have been dismayed at the role played by the Sunni clergy in Istanbul.
[Moreover, we have a much later statement from `Abdu'l-Bahá that quite clearly demonstrates his real sentiments about Sultan Abdulaziz. In a manuscript letter to Haydar `Ali Usku'i of Tabriz written around 1909, `Abdu'l-Bahá answers a question about the verse in Bahá'u'lláh's Most Holy Book that says: "O Spot that art situate on the shores of the two seas! The throne of tyranny hath, verily, been established upon thee, and the flame of hatred hath been kindled within thy bosom . . . It shall soon perish . . ." (K89; pp. 52-53). `Abdu'l-Bahá comments, "As for the question about the spot situate between two shores, it concerned what happened, that is, the throne of tyranny was overthrown. But so far it has not again found stability. Pray that order and stability are restored to it." (MS., Letters of `Abdu'l-Bahá to Haydar `Ali Usku'i, p. 55). So `Abdu'l-Bahá really believed that Sultan Abdulaziz sat upon 'the throne of tyranny' and that its overthrow in 1876 had been predicted in the Most Holy Book. The reference to subsequent instability probably concerns the Young Turk revolution of 1908-1909. One can only conclude that his presentation in the Treatise on Leadership of Abdulaziz as wronged and oppressed by the 1876 revolutionaries comes from a Machiavellian desire to appeal to the fears of Nasiru'd-Din Shah in painting the interference of religious individuals and institutions in civil politics as always disastrous]. [Note added here 7-24-98 - JRIC].
After Abdulhamid suspended the parliament, and after Nasiru'd-Din Shah in Iran turned against the idea of cabinet government, both the Ottoman and Iranian states turned reactionary politically. They became again absolute monarchies. In the late 19th century, the events of 1876-78 came to look very different, as a series of disasters, and it was hard to disentangle the parliamentary experiment from the defeat by Russia (which was itself antidemocratic and a bastion of absolute monarchy, and whose strength against the Ottomans served as an advertisement for the advantages of autocratic reaction). Moreover, in the meantime the `Urabi movement in Egypt, wherein a similar grassroots constitutionalist movement had been launched, eventuated in the British occupation of that country. So one could draw the conclusion that constitutionalist movements supported by religious leaders had the effect of weakening Middle Eastern states and opening the door to imperialist predations by the European powers, and that for the moment antiimperialism required everyone in the region to pull behind the monarch in order to remain independent. This appears to be the position `Abdu'l-Bahá had reached by the time of the Tobacco Revolt [though the new evidence of the letter to Haydar `Ali Usku'i also raises the possibility that `Abdu'l-Bahá's stance here is rhetorical rather than revealing all his own feelings about the deposed sultan.
Browne and some other scholars tended to see such discrepancies as evidences of some sort of dishonesty or hypocrisy in Bahá'í leaders. But Browne was not a trained historian. Historians know that people change their minds about things, and change the emphasis they give to various factors, over time. By 1892 or so, `Abdu'l-Bahá may have been more worried about a European takeover of Iran than about immediately implementing a parliamentary system. After all, the cancellation of a major concession to a British subject could have resulted in British military action against Iran, which neighbored British India in the south. Moreover, `Abdu'l-Bahá had become worried that populist and constitutionalist movements, the goals of which he and Bahá'u'lláh approved of in principle, gave too much of an opening, in the late 19th century, to the illegitimate influence of religious leaders on civil politics.
Finally, `Abdu'l-Bahá frequently argued in such works as Traveller's Narrative and SDC on the basis of Realpolitik. He wished to convince both the Bahá'ís and the government officials who might read this treatise that the intervention by religious leaders in civil politics posed a great danger to the well-being and stability of the state. What more powerful image could he evoke than that of Sultan Abdulaziz, dead in his baths at his Istanbul palace, by his own hand, while turbanned seminarians demonstrated in the streets of Istanbul? He was saying to Nasiru'd-Din Shah, 'do you really want to risk such an eventuality by continuing your alliance with the fractious Shi`ite religious leaders against the law-abiding Bahá'ís?'
The next passage of `Abdu'l-Bahá's "Treatise on Leadership" finally clarified something that had remained mysterious to me for a long time, and which profoundly affects our understanding of his later Will and Testament. He speaks of tashri` . Now, the word for revealed law such as is in the Qur'an or al-Kitab al-Aqdas is shari`ah . In classical Muslim lexicons, I'm not aware of the word tashri`, which literally would mean 'to legislate.' Modern standard Arabic, on the other hand, has two words for 'legislation:' tashri` and taqnin (to make a law or qanun). But tashri` has been secularized in this sense, referring to the civil legislation of a secular parliament. It would anyway not make sense for a civil parliament to be said to legislate (tashri`) divine revealed law (shari`ah). No one can legislate shari`ah except the Prophet, who is called sha:ri`.
So why does `Abdu'l-Bahá refer below to the Shi`ite religious leaders of Iran as sources (mas.dar) of tashri` regarding the divine ordinances (ah.ka:m-i ila:hiyyih)? That makes no sense if we translate tashri` as legislation. The clergy cannot legislate divine ordinances, only God and the Prophet can do that.
There is only one resolution to this philological puzzle, it seems to me. `Abdu'l-Bahá is not using 'tashri`' to mean 'legislation' at all! He is using it as a synonym of istinba:t. or ijtiha:d. He is using it to mean, 'establishing the purport of the revealed law.' And, luckily, `Abdu'l-Bahá makes it quite explicit that this is precisely what he does mean by tashri`, since he glosses it himself here: "that is, whenever the government questions them about the exigencies of the revealed law and the reality of the divine ordinances affecting both general and specific issues, they must communicate the conclusions to which their jurisprudential reasoning (mustanbat.) has led them about the commands of God."
Now, `Abdu'l-Bahá has already made it crystal clear that he doesn't want religious leaders intervening in civil affairs. When he said they should carry out tashri`, he therefore could not possibly have meant that they should be legislating in the area of civil law. He writes below of the religious leaders, "Otherwise, what expertise do they have in political matters, the protection of the subjects, the managing of serious affairs, the welfare and prosperity of the country, the implementation of the civil regulations (qava'id) and secular laws (qanun) of a realm, or foreign affairs and domestic policy?"
Rather, he envisages the state acknowledging that certain matters are covered by the religious revealed law (shari`ah), and that when in doubt the state will ask the religious leaders what the purport of the revealed law is in a particular case. But religious leaders may not seek to implement the law directly, themselves, but must depend on the civil state to do so. Moreover, there is a large arena of civil politics and civil law, enacted by the state, about which the religious leaders are not to issue their own rulings (ra'i zadan). The system sounds very much like the way Egypt and Pakistan operate today, incidentally.
This passage, on p. 30 of the 1934 edition of the Risalih-'i Siyasiyyih, is absolutely invaluable, since it also throws a flood of illumination on `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament. The Bahá'í system is more complicated than the Muslim. Bahá'u'lláh revealed a divine legal system (shari`ah). But he also established houses of justice that would enact legislation (qanun) specifically for the Bahá'í community in personal status and other areas not covered by the shari`ah. So there is religious shari`ah and religious qanun.
But `Abdu'l-Bahá also envisages that there will be a civil state that has its own executive, legislature and judiciary. And just as he forbids the Shi`ite religious leaders from seeking to intervene directly in civil affairs or from directly implementing religious law, so he forbids houses of justice from the same thing. He says on p. 16 of the 1960 Karachi edition of the Persian Will and Testament, "i:n bayt al-'adl mas.dar-i tashri` ast va hukumat quvvih-'i tanfidh" : "this [universal] house of justice is the authority for establishing the purport of the divine law, and the government is the agency for its implementation."
Of course, the untechnical English translation of the Will and Testament gives, "This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them." This translation makes it seem as though the house of justice is envisaged as acting in place of the civil parliament. But tashri` as `Abdu'l-Bahá was using it simply did not mean to enact legislation! It meant to engage in jurisprudential reasoning about the purport of the revealed law. The parallelism between the below passage (in which `Abdu'l-Bahá employs the concepts of tashri` and tanfidh to exclude Shi`ite religious leaders from a direct role in civil governance or legislation) and the passage from the Will and Testament is exact. The untechnical translation and Bahá'í folk tradition, however, have managed to turn `Abdu'l-Bahá on his head, reading the tashri`/tanfidh distinction he carefully erects to combat theocracy as a warrant for Bahá'í theocracy in the future.
`Abdu'l-Bahá was certainly opposed to the Shi`ite religious authorities intervening in politics in Nasiru'd-Din Shah's Iran. And he appears to say that his opposition stems from general principle rather than from immediate considerations. That is, he says that leadership in human societies is always and everywhere divided into civil governance and religious authority, and that it is always a disaster for the religious authority to intervene in the affairs of civil governance or to try to govern in its own right.
`Abdu'l-Bahá makes it clear that he is positing a general principle, valid for all "ages and eras," past and future: "Thus, note that in every age and era some irreligious leaders of religion were responsible for oppression, hindrances, sieges, violence, torment, and renewed tyranny. Whenever opposition to the state has arisen, it has all been as a result of the hints, innuendoes, allusions, and gestures of these rebellious individuals." He now turns away from case studies of modern Middle Eastern politics and looks at sacred history. Not only have leaders of religious institutions wrongly intervened in civil politics, but they have even been responsible for persecuting the prophets, such as Jesus and Muhammad.
Finally, `Abdu'l-Bahá appears to realize that he has said some harsh things about the religious leaders of the various religions, and he digresses a bit to underline that there are good religious leaders. He just appears to feel that they are rather more rare than the rebellious, tyrannical and seditious sort. I personally find it hard not to agree with him.
In this part of the "Treatise on Politics," `Abdu'l-Bahá expands on the theme of the distinctness and the complementarity of state authority and religious authority, which he likens to "milk" and "honey." Obviously, these two elements cannot genuinely intermix and remain always separate, but they do go well together.
He says that civilization requires laws and interconnectivity, and that these are provided by the state in some respects, and by religion in others. The revealed law (shari`ah) does some of this work, whereas the social order and civil law (qanun) provided by the state does the rest. Not only do religion and the state regulate behavior and establish essential networks among people, making human society possible, but they also come as cures for the maladies that beset the social order. Human societies in `Abdu'l-Bahá's view are unstable and prone to falling prey to illnesses. Religion cures some types of illness, while the state cures others. In `Abdu'l-Bahá's view, this differentiation between religion and state is not a distinction between what is godly and what is profane. Rather, both religion and the state are rooted ultimately in divine authority: "Thus, it is evident and has been established that the one who legislates ordinances, order, canon law and civil laws among humankind is God, the Mighty, the All-Knowing." God is depicted as the ultimate divine physician, and religion and state are scalpel and forceps, are tools whereby the ground of being mysteriously reconstitutes contingent being in a healthful manner.
The key difference between prophetic law and civil law is that civil law is a matter of human reason, custom, and trial and error: "For this reason, European law is still imperfect and incomplete, still in the realm of change and alteration or repeal and amendment even though it is in reality the result of several thousand years of thinking by constitutional scholars and political philosophers. For the learned of the past had not discovered the harmfulness of some laws, whereas later scholars became aware of it. Therefore, some laws are amended, some are reaffirmed, and some are altered." For this reason, `Abdu'l-Bahá rejects the proposition put forward in the European Enlightenment that revealed law may be safely jettisoned and humankind can depend solely on reason. The unalterable moral anchor of the revealed law in any particular dispensation plays an irreplaceable part in rendering human society orderly and healthy.
On the other hand, he also rejects the proposition put forward by medieval theocrats and their 19th century descendants, that civil law and civil government should be swept away and replaced solely by religious institutions and law: "The revealed law is like the shining sun, and the civil government is like April clouds. These two radiant stars are like two points in a constellation above the horizon of the contingent world that shine down on the people of the world. The one illuminates the realm of spirit, and the other renders the arena of the world a rose garden." Religion and the state have two separate domains of social action. Religion concerns individual conscience, moral values and spirituality. The state concerns building an orderly and civilizationally advanced civil society. Neither must impede the other, neither must interfere in the other's affairs. They are like "two helping spirits in the ether, which aid one another." One cannot shore up the authority of the state by persecuting religion (as the Jacobins attempted to do in France during the Revolution, or as the Germans attempted to do under Bismarck during the Kulturkampf against Roman Catholicism). But the religious also cannot further religion's goals by attempting to overthrow or take the place of the state, as various theocratic movements had attempted to do.
`Abdu'l-Bahá now reiterates that the shari`ah or revealed law needs an external institution, the civil state, which will protect it and allow its implementation. He quotes Bahá'u'lláh's Kitab-i Mubin (Athar-i Qalam-i A'la, vol. 1) to confirm that civil government (here Iran's monarchy) is bestowed by God and therefore has its own, separate, divine legitimation apart from the shari`ah or revealed law. In Islamic principles of jurisprudence, one interprets the texts according to whether they appear to have a general or a specific purport. If there is a saying from the Prophet that Zayd shouldn't eat dates, they felt, this statement could not be generalized to a prohibition on eating dates. It was specific to Zayd. `Abdu'l-Bahá points out that the statements of the Prophet ("Rulership is the gift of the Lord of grandeur, and government is a mercy of the Lord of divinity") and of Bahá'u'lláh on the divine origins of the civil state are not specific to any particular state, but expressed as general precepts of universal validity.
Why is it that the revealed law needs a state to implement it or to foster the prerequisites for its implementation? Why can't religious institutions administer the shari`ah directly? `Abdu'l-Bahá appears to believe that for the latter to attempt to do so without state permission or backing would constitute a form of vigilanteism in the worst sense of the word. Legitimate practical implementation of law has been bestowed by God on the civil state, not on religious institutions. Religious institutions and leaders must concern themselves with spirituality and morals, not with governance and rule, he says. They are simply not to intervene in affairs of state or in politics in a direct sort of way. In the Tobacco Revolt, Shi`ite clerics preached against the granting of a monopoly on the marketing of tobacco to a British entrepreneur. `Abdu'l-Bahá says they are wrong to have done so. They should not have taken a position on this affair of state. If the state comes to them and asks them about the moral or ethical implication of the shari`ah or revealed law in any particular instance, they may reply. But they are not to volunteer comment on politics. Practical implementation (the root he uses is n f dh) is the strict prerogative of the civil state, which is itself ordained for this purpose by God himself.
Now, from a Shi`ite point of view, there is an obvious objection to what `Abdu'l-Bahá is saying. Most Shi`ites believed that the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law `Ali, and his lineal descendants through Fatima (the Prophet's daughter) should have exercised civil rule as well as religious viceregency. If, as `Abdu'l-Bahá asserts, it has been wrong in every time and place for religious institutions to intervene in civil rule, then what about the Imams? Moreover, the Usuli Shi`ite clergy believed themselves to be the general representatives of the 12th Imam, and for some this station authorized their intervention in affairs of state.
Rather astonishingly, `Abdu'l-Bahá replies to this implicit critique of his position by denying that the Shi`ite Imams were owed authority over the civil government! Just as Bahá'u'lláh had, in the Book of Certitude, argued that the Mahdi (the Return of the 12th Imam, whom Babis and Bahá'ís believe to be Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi the Bab) properly exercised spiritual rather than temporal authority, `Abdu'l-Bahá extends this argument to all the Imams: "As for the station of the Imams and of the near ones at the threshold of grandeur, it is that of spiritual honor and glory. Their right is to the authority of the All-Merciful, and their crown of glory is the dust of the divine path."
Again, `Abdu'l-Bahá's argument is that the separation of religion and state is an eternal principle in the revealed religions, and it is always and everywhere illegitimate for religious institutions to seek to usurp the civil state's God-given prerogative of implementing law and of exercising governmental sovereignty. On these grounds, the Shi`ite clergy were wrong to intervene in the Tobacco Regie, and Bahá'ís would also be wrong to do so. (Many Bahá'ís were merchants, and those in Shiraz and its environs had substantial tobacco holdings, and many must have been hurt by the Tobacco Monopoly and tempted to join in the protests against it; probably some actually did so).
In the last passages of `Abdu'l-Bahá's "Treatise on Rulership," he speaks at length about the relationships between the monarchical government and its subjects. He stresses that the subjects have rights (huqu:q), as does the government, and that these rights are mutual. Although it is now difficult to recognize, this assertion was quite radical in Qajar Iran, and probably would have been rejected by most of the Iranian nobility. Peasants were referred to by Nasiru'd-Din Shah as 'rabble,' and I doubt he thought they had rights. However, the emphasis of the treatise is not on those rights, but rather on their mutual character--the subjects also owe it to the state to keep it strong and stable and able to care for their needs and (I think it is implied) repel foreign incursions. `Abdu'l-Bahá does not address the problem of what might be done by the subjects if an absolute monarch declines to honor the rights of the subjects (as Iranian Tobacco growers and merchants felt that Nasiru'd-Din Shah had not, in unilaterally giving away their sector of the economy to a British monopoly). We do know that Bahá'u'lláh himself felt that the Ottoman state had trampled on his rights in exiling him to Akka, and that in response he circulated letters of protest to tens of thousands of people, as well as calling for a change in the way the empire was governed, asking for a parliament. Likewise, Bahá'u'lláh in the Tablet of the World, written in the summer of 1891 when the Tobacco Revolt was at its height, tells Nasiru'd-Din Shah that all the trouble derived from his having not called a parliament yet. `Abdu'l-Bahá seems in the "Treatise" not to be in as much a hurry as Bahá'u'lláh had been to see an Iranian parliament, and appears to think it is more important at that point to strengthen the Qajar state against imperialist powers without and clerical theocrats within.
It is worth noting that `Abdu'l-Bahá appears to have thought that there were different rules of comportment for subjects of a monarchy as opposed to citizens of a republic or constitutional country. For instance, in a letter to an early American Bahá'í he remarks that in a republic citizens have a duty to be active in public affairs. Early Western Bahá'ís belonged to political parties and ran for political office, and this appears to have been all right with `Abdu'l-Bahá. Also, once Iran adopted a constitutional form of government in 1906, `Abdu'l-Bahá gradually lifted his ban on Bahá'í participation in politics in Iran, and actually urged the Bahá'ís to attempt to elect at least two Bahá'ís to parliament.
My point is that the political quietism obvious in the "Treatise on Leadership" must be seen in the context of discouraging Bahá'í participation in the Tobacco Revolt and its aftermath in 1892-93. It is not characteristic of the Bahá'u'lláh period in this extreme form, nor is it characteristic of `Abdu'l-Bahá's later positions once he was addressing Bahá'ís who were citizens of constitutional regimes in both the U.S. and post-1905 Iran.
The evolution of Arabic technical terms during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth is the focus of a small literature and needs a great deal more study. Aspects of the question have been treated by Ami Ayalon, Bernard Lewis, Timothy Mitchell, and Jaroslav Stetkyvitch, among others.
Speakers of Arabic and Persian and to some extent Ottoman Turkish lost close contact with developments in Western Europe after the expulsion of the Arabs from Spain in 1492. The Middle East did not adopt printing on a wide scale till the 19th century, and there was little or no knowledge of the Renaissance, Reformation, or Enlightenment among contemporary Middle Eastern thinkers of the early modern period. All of these European developments threw up new ideas, new social institutions and changed social practices, and a rich new vocabulary to describe them. French political terminology underwent enormous changes 1780-1831, e.g. Thus, when Middle Easterners once again encountered Europe and modernity in a thoroughgoing way in the 19th century, they met all sorts of ideas and institutions for which there simply were no words in Arabic or other Middle Eastern languages.
An amusing example of this problem can be found in a reply written by `Abdu'r-Rahman al-Jabarti to Bonaparte's pamphlet promising liberty to the Egyptians when he invaded Egypt in 1798. Al-Jabarti says that the French seem to mean that they are not slaves, unlike the caste of slave-soldier Mamluks who had ruled Egypt previously. Al-hurriyyah or liberty in Arabic still had no political resonances, only a technical meaning of having the status of a free person rather than of a slave. And even if al-Jabarti, who collaborated with the French, did in fact have a fair idea of what they meant by liberty, he could be assured that his obtuseness was plausible to most of his readers, who did not.
The new institutions and practices included parliaments, legislation, the division of powers, civil magistrates, constitutions, rights, due process, civil law, education, liberty rule of law--not to mention telegraph, steamship, and so forth. Through the 19th century many neologisms were coined by writers and journalists. Some of these became standard and others did not. For a while in the 19th century the Arabic word for constitution was tarti:b; later on it became qanun asasi, and then finally dastur. I have done 20 years worth of research in 19th century Muslim thought, including in the newspapers of the era, and have been struck by how fluid this terminology was and therefore how difficult any particular decade's works are to understand properly if one is not alive to the failed neologisms!
The word for British civil legal courts used by a number of Persian travellers, incidentally, was `adalatkhanih, which would translate into Arabic as house of justice.
With regard to tashri`, it appears to be a very uncommon word in Persian. `Abdu'l-Bahá used it to mean jurisprudential reasoning (elucidation if you will) in the 1893 Treatise on Leadership. It is not the word employed by Persian inventors of neologisms to mean modern civil legislation. In Persian, therefore, there is no reason to think its meaning for `Abdu'l-Bahá ever changed at all. It probably continues to mean jurisprudential reasoning when he uses it in the 1907 Will and Testament. I cannot tell you when civil or parliamentary legislation first became widely known as tashri` in Arabic, because we still have no Arabic equivalent of the OED. I've ceased thinking this issue is relevant to understanding `Abdu'l-Bahá's use of tashri` in a Persian religious context.
With regard to qanun, I have already explained that it can be used to mean law in either a religious or temporal context. The civil decree issued by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent was called a qanun. But writers in Persian also do speak of qavanin-i din or the laws of religion. Persian speakers would have had no problem understanding `Abdu'l-Bahá's calling the religious legislation of the house of justice qavanin va ahkam (words that mean "laws" and can mean either religious laws or civil laws). I did not mean to imply that the Arab Catholic use of qanun to mean church canon law was the only thing in `Abdu'l-Bahá's mind; however it could be one influence and it would be a nice parallel.
`Abdu'l-Bahá forbade religious leaders (pishvayan) in general from intervening in the affairs of the civil state. I see no reason that the Bahá'í houses of justice would be in his view exempted from this provision, and he does not say that they are. To the contrary, he speaks of them in precisely parallel terms to those he uses for the Shi`ite leaders. He says the Shi`ite learned should stick to elucidating (tashri`, istinbat) the religious law and let the state worry about implementation. He says the house of justice should stick to elucidating the religious law (tashri`, istinbat) and let the state worry about implementation. The issue for `Abdu'l-Bahá is not the actions of the learned in a religion, but the leaders of the religion. Where the learned are the leaders, obviously the separation of religion and state has implications for them. Where the leaders are not identical to the learned (`ulama'), this principle nevertheless has implications for them.
Balyuzi, Eminent Bahá'ís in the Time of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 176: "Ibn-i-Asdaq was the instrument whereby `Abdu'l-Bahá's Treatise on Politics (Risaliy-I Siyasiyyih) was presented to the Shah and distributed among the notables of Iran." My thanks to Peter Smith for this citation.