The Secret of Divine Civilization and the Development of Iran
That is why The Secret is not written like the usual works of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in which he explicitly affirms the emergence of a new revelation, the abrogation of Islam and Islamic laws, and the abolition of all kinds of priesthood. The aim of the Secret is to reduce the prejudices of Iranians in order to make them advance towards reform and freedom. It pursues this aim by writing in a milder language and within an Islamic framework which uses the Shi’i categories and concepts to provide a more progressive and modern interpretation of Islam. Since he finds the culture of clerical supremacy as the foundation of Iran’s backwardness, he intentionally engages in a comprehensive reinterpretation of the main argument of the Shi’i clerics for justification of their authority, and thus concludes from the same argument the necessity of the rejection of the culture of prejudice and emulation of the clerics. The main argument of the clerics for their institutional authority is a few traditions attributed to various Imams. The most famous of these traditions discusses four attributes of the clerics which make them worthy of emulation. ‘Abdu’l-Baha devoted two thirds of the Secret to a reinterpretation of these four attributes in order to reject the claims and authority of the clerics. That tradition, attributed to the Sixth Imam (Sadiq) identifies true clerics or learned ones (‘ulama’) in terms of four conditions: “As for him who is one of the learned [clerics]: he must guard himself, defend his faith, oppose his passions and obey the commandments of his Lord.” 16 ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s work interprets these four attributes and concludes from his interpretation that in the present condition of Iran, these attributes require active promotion of Iran’s development and freedom; support of new and beneficial modern sciences; rejection of prejudice and religious intolerance; and encouraging people towards development of industry, creative work, independent thinking, education, and social justice. In other words, ‘Abdu’l-Baha with a living and dynamic interpretation of these attributes in the context of the needs of the time, reaches two conclusions: First, that a true cleric who possesses these qualifications is almost non-existent, and therefore, following of the reactionary, traditionalist and prejudiced clerics who oppose reform and modernity is contrary to Islam. Secondly, true cleric today is one who promotes knowledge and wisdom among the masses and encourages their independent thinking, so that the social basis of the culture of blind following of the clerics is eliminated. Before discussing in some details, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s reinterpretation of these four attributes, it is useful to quote the conclusion of the Secret at the end of his reinterpretation of those qualifications. It is evident that ‘Abdu’l-Baha turns the basis of the authority of the clerics into an argument for the rejection of the culture of prejudice and clerical supremacy: O People of Persia! Open your eyes! Pay heed! Release yourselves from this blind following of the bigots, this senseless imitation which is the principal reason why men fall away into paths of ignorance and degradation. See the true state of things. Rise up; seize hold of such means as will bring you life and happiness and greatness and glory among all the nations of the world… Aim high, choose noble ends; how long this lethargy, how long this negligence! Despair, both here and hereafter, is all you will gain from self-indulgence; abomination and misery are all you will harvest from fanaticism, from believing the foolish and the mindless. The confirmations of God are supporting you, the succor of God is at hand: why do you not cry out and exult with all your heart, and strive with all your soul! 17
16 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization. P. 34. 17 Ibid, 104-5.
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