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A Commentary on the Azhar’s Statement Regarding ‘Bahá’ís and Bahá’ísm’

The Islamic Research Academy at the Azhar University recently issued a statement about Bahá’ís and Bahá’ísm which was published in a number of newspapers in Egypt and other Arab countries on 21 January 1986. The statement was, in effect, a denunciation of the Bahá’í Faith, which it described as a ‘false creed’.
The reasoning followed by the Research Academy in arriving at its conclusion of the ‘falsity’ of the Bahá’í Faith may be resolved into two basic trains of argument. The first line of argument is that it must be false since it is at variance with Islam in denying the Day of Judgement, the Resurrection, Heaven and Hell; in repudiating the Prophet Muhammad’s station as the ‘Seal of the Prophets’; in claiming that God became incarnate in the person of Bahá’u’lláh; and in altering the forms of worship ordained by Islam. The second line of argument seeks to demonstrate the falsity of the Bahá’í Faith by showing the opposition that it has encountered from Islamic society, whether this has taken the form of condemnatory religious and judicial pronouncements, of legal decisions adjudicating it to be a form of ‘apostasy’, or of the persecution of its followers through campaigns of execution and torture, as has been happening in Iran. The Research Academy winds up its case by urging the legislative, judicial, and executive powers of government in Egypt to ‘extirpate’ from the country a small and disadvantaged group of peaceable citizens, for no other reason than that they call themselves Bahá’ís.

It was obvious from the profuse amount of erroneous information contained in the Research Academy’s statement that it had placed its reliance on sources hostile to the Bahá’ís, sources that purvey to the public scurrilous misrepresentations of the Bahá’í Faith that are as offensive to them as they must be to any Muslim. In consequence, the findings arrived at by the Research Academy stand in striking contrast to the true facts of the case, which could quite easily have been ascertained standard Bahá’í source books or to the beliefs actually held by the Bahá’ís. Our concern to make available to students of religion some basic information about the Bahá’í Faith, and an outline of its principles and teachings, was the chief consideration prompting the writing of this commentary. Our hope is that it may go some way towards dispelling the accumulated falsehoods and fictions that have obscured the true face of this Faith – a Faith which has been extolled by many eminent thinkers from both East and West, who have familiarised themselves with its beliefs, the spirituality of its teachings and the loftiness of its vision.

The Belief of the Bahá’ís in the Qur’án

The Bahá’í believe in all the divine verses contained in the Book of the ‘Wise Remembrance’ whether these relate to the question of the ‘Seal of the Prophets’ or to such matters as the Day of Judgement, the Resurrection, the Afterlife, Heaven and Hell. Bahá’ís, however, do not regard themselves as bound to follow the interpretations assigned to these verses by the scholars of former ages (particularly where the meaning is not clearly apparent), except in cases where such interpretations are fully in accordance with reason. The distinction between Text and interpretation is so clear that it would be superfluous for us to elaborate upon it here in detail: the one is the revealed Word of God, while the other is the production of His fallible creatures. The reason why we believe that our forefathers’ interpretations of the Holy Text cannot be accepted en masse without any discrimination on our part is that they suffer from certain limitations. Broadly speaking there have been two main schools of exegesis: the vast majority of Qur’ánic exegetes placed exclusive reliance on the linguistic signification and outward meaning of the verses they were engaged in expounding, and their interpretative efforts are therefore marked by strict adherence to a literalistic understanding of the text. (Needless to say, were the meanings of the Qur’án really to be confined to these outward significations, it could hardly be said to contain those ‘figurative’ verses, of which, together with the ‘perspicuous’ verses, it is, by the Academy had it referred either to the its own testimony, composed.)[2] The other school of exegesis overlooked the outward sense of the words and placed such emphasis on their inner meanings that they sometimes assigned to the scripture interpretations which it could not, under any construction, be made to bear. The Bahá’ís regard these two different approaches as each, in its own way, unbalanced. The Bahá’ í approach to the interpretation of the Qur’án is marked by its moderation, and by its blending of elements from both schools of exegesis, without accepting unreservedly the premises of either. On this basis, the Bahá’ís have been able to develop an understanding of the Holy Text which they consider to be at once deeper and more balanced than that expounded by the exegetes, and more in harmony with the exigencies of sound logic and the findings of modem science; and that takes full account of the rich profusion of hidden meanings contained in the metaphors, similes and allusions with which the verses of all the Holy Books abound.

“The truth of the matter is that the Bahá’ís are proponents neither of the ‘inward’ nor the ‘outward’ exegesis of the Qur’án;
or to put it another way, they are proponents of both these schools.”
This translation was published eight years after the issuance of the original Arabic in The Bahá’í World: An International Record,
Volume XIX, 1983-1986, prepared under the supervision of The Universal House of Justice, 1994, pages 288-96.