The Secret of Divine Civilization and the Development of Iran

measures should be adopted as the Persians themselves devise, that they themselves should reform their political administration and their educational system and the state of their culture and that there is no need to borrow improvements from other nations. Every faction, in short, follows its own particular illusion. 3

Second Layer: Definition of Development as a rational and universal Concept The second layer of discourse in the Secret concerns the definition of development and modernity. The main question in this discussion is whether the concept of development has a universal and rational definition which is applicable to all societies, or its definition depends on the specific culture of society and lacks any universal and rational principles. With the influence of cultural relativism and postmodernism in 20 th century, many came to believe that values are devoid of any objective and universal meaning and that good or bad can only be defined in terms of the cultural traditions of a society. According to this view, since concept of development is a type of value judgment, no general, objective and universal definition of it is possible. Consequently, they entertain, each society must return to its own traditions and build its social policy in terms of those traditions. Such policy orientation is defined as the only true definition of development and modernity. As the Secret points out, this same philosophy, though in a less explicit form, was advocated by various reactionary groups in Iran during the 19 th century in order to oppose any movement towards reform and development. Although the reactionary clerics believed in the universal validity of Islamic laws, since modernity first emerged in Western societies, they joined others to emphasize the evil character of Western culture and its opposition to the culture and requirements of Iran and Islam. According to these clerics, Iran’s tradition is nothing but Islam, and therefore the only true meaning of development for Iran is the universal enforcement of Shi’i religious law, the absolute dominance of the clerics in society, and the unquestioning obedience to their commands in all domains of culture and politics. However, in an explicit and clear way, the Secret refutes these kinds of traditionalism. Although in all his writings, ‘Abdu’l-Baha defends unity in diversity, such unity and diversity are defined in the context of some binding rational and universal principles. While many of these principles are to some extent institutionalized in Western societies, they are neither Western principles nor Eastern principles. Instead, they are universal principles that are required by reason, human dignity and human rights. That is why the Secret begins with the praise of reason: Consider carefully: all these highly varied phenomena, these concepts, this knowledge, these technical procedures and philosophical systems, these sciences, arts, industries and inventions—all are emanations of the human mind. Whatever people has ventured deeper into this shoreless sea, has come to excel the rest. The happiness and pride of a nation consist in this, that it should shine out like the sun in the high heaven of knowledge… How long shall we drift on the wings of passion and vain desire; how long shall we spend our days like barbarians in the depths of ignorance and abomination? 4

3 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization . Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1990, p. 12. 4 Ibid, pp. 2-3.

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