The Bab and Modernity

The Bab and Modernity Nader Saiedi

The title of my talk is the Bab and Modernity. Given my limited time, I will not discuss the concept of modernity or the backward character of Iran of 19 th century. Instead I would like to emphasize the overall worldview of the Bab. But before discussing my main point, it is useful to remember that modernity brought about two contradictory principles. On the one hand, it suggested a noble concept of human beings where humans are perceived as beings endowed with rights. On the other hand, it fulfilled this mission through a rejection of religion and spirituality. Modernity advocated a form of rationalism which was centered in a materialistic worldview. These two perspectives are ultimately contradictory to each other, and that is why it was followed by a relativistic culture of postmodernity. What constitutes the distinctive feature of the worldview of the Bab, and later Baha’u’llah, is the fact that both of them emphasize the nobility of human beings through advocating a new and dynamic spiritual consciousness. In this sense, the Bab provides a systematic critique of both religious traditionalism as well as a materialistic worldview. 1. From Perspective of Resemblance (Tashabuh) to the Perspective of Revelation (Tajalli) According to Foucault, traditional cultures and religious discourse have been based on a perspective that he calls it the epistemology or perspective of resemblance. This means that the relation of various social groups to each other resembles the relation of God to his creatures. Therefore, the absolute superiority of God to his servants becomes the model for various forms of social hierarchy in society. For example, the relation of men to women becomes a repetition of the relation between God and his creatures. Similarly, the relation of owners of slaves to slaves mirrors the relation of God to the world. Relation of the king to his subjects, relation of the believers to the non-believers, relation of the priests and mullahs to the ordinary believers are also a repetition of the relation of God to the creatures. We can see that in this perspective all forms of inequality and oppression are justified in the name of God and religion. In fact, the appearance of this perspective is that it sees everything from a spiritual perspective and it is in this way that it rationalizes various forms of injustice and bigotry. Both the Bab and Baha’u’llah reject this perspective of resemblance and replace it with a perspective of revelation or tajalli. This perspective sees the entire reality as the mirrors of divine attributes. Therefore, the truth of everything and everyone is ultimately one and the same, and that is the reflection of divine attributes. In this way all become sacred, all become beautiful and all become endowed with rights. Not only humans become all equal, nature has also its own right. Nature is a reflection of God, and therefore it has to be protected and respected. In order to understand this perspective of revelation, I mention two related points. A. All Truth are contained in the Letter B First, the Bab reinterprets the famous Islamic tradition which says all truth is in the sacred books, and all truth of sacred books is in the Qur’an, and all the Qur’an is contained in its introductory chapter, and all truth in the introductory chapter is contained in the opening phrase of the Qur’an “bismi allh al-rahman al-Rahim, and all the truth of the opening phrase is in the letter B, and the letter B is Baha’u’llah. Of course the immediate meaning of this statement is that the opening phrase of the Qur’an consists of 19

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