Towards a Theory of Baha’i Jurisprudence By: Cynthia C. Shawamreh

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Conclusion.

In this paper I have reviewed some of the basic elements of Islamic jurisprudence. I have tried to use the Islamic precedent as a reference point for the development of a theory of Baha’i jurisprudence. Baha’i law, like Islamic law, regulates an immense scope including criminal law, civil law, business transactions, and family law, as well as personal religious behavior including prayer and fasting. Like Islam, Baha’i law sets up a pattern for community governance, but unlike Islam, the Baha’i administrative order is firmly rooted in the Writings of the Founder of it’s Faith, establishing an indisputable line of authority and protecting from sects and schism over time. The Baha’i Writings themselves unequivocally state that decision-making on all matters not explicitly covered in the texts will be left to the future determination of Houses of Justice. The Baha’i community is currently governed internationally by the Universal House of Justice and at the local and national level by spiritual assemblies which are expected to evolve into Houses of Justice. These circumstances make useful the eventual development of a theory to guide the systematic process of decision-making, while allowing for the flexibility and elasticity essential to a world religious community which must adapt to varying social conditions of both time and geographic location. In this paper I have tried to utilize the paradigm of Islamic jurisprudence (sources of law as: 1) Qur’an, 2) Traditions, 3) consensus, and 4) reasoning by analogy) to develop and present a rough preliminary theory of Baha’i jurisprudence (sources of law as: 1) Baha’i Writings and authorized interpretations, 2) precedent decisions of the Universal House of Justice, 3) consensus based on consultation, and 4) reasoning by analogy). It is my hope that this theory could be useful to future considerations developing Baha’i jurisprudence which would analyze and help systematize the process of decision-making by Baha’i assemblies. The usefulness of such a theory could then be tested and refined through practical application over time as Baha’i assemblies increasingly evolve and mature into the primary role envisioned for them as central institutions of governance pursuant to the Baha’i Writings.


1. N.J. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1964), p.1-2.

2. Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Vol. 1 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974). Hugh Kennedy, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the Sixth to the Eleventh Century (New York: Long man Publishing, 1986).

3

. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law, p. 36.



4. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law, p. 27.

5. Hasan Balyuzi, Muhammad and the Course of Islam (Oxford: George Ronald, 1976 ), p.291.

6. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law, p. 59-60.

7. Farnaz Masumian, “Overview of Islam,” p.6.

8. James Fieser and John Powers, Scriptures of the World’s Religions, p. 382.

9. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law, p. 71.

10. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law, p. 91.

11. Ibid.

12. Fieser and Powers, Scriptures of the World’s Religions, p. 378-379.

13. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law, p. 80.

14. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law, p. 202.

th. Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (Yale University Press, 2001).

15. Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam (Oxford: George Ronald, 1985) p. 184, but see Coulson, A History of Islamic Law, p.105 for the opposite viewpoint.

16. Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p.70.

17. Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p. 66.

18. Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p. 39.

19. Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p. 67-68. I thought that there was an intriguing parallel here with Abdu’l-Baha’s excommunication as covenant-breakers of early American believers who insisted that He was the return of Jesus Christ despite His repeated assertions that He was not. (See Robert Stockman, The Baha’i Faith in America, Vol. 2, Marzieh Gail, Arches of the Years) Abdu’l-Baha often quotes the sixth Imam, Jafar as-Sadiq.

th. Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p. 91-92.

20. Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p. 125-126.

21

. Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1989), p. 35.



22. Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p. 223.

23. Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 45.

24. Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 46, footnote 53. The Bab Himself was familiar with Akhbari’s work, and wrote a refutation of some of his opinions. The Bab also refers to Akhbari in the Dala’il-i Sab’a (the Seven Proofs) as one who had predicted His own imminent manifestation. Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 46, footnote 52.

25. Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p. 228.

26. Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p. 186-188.

27. Mirza-yi-Shirazi was a distant relative of the Bab. In general the Usuli establishment violently opposed the Babi and later Baha’i movement. There is, however, an absolutely extraordinary assertion in the book Eminent Baha’is in the Time of Baha’u’llah, by Hasan Balyuzi, that Mirza-yi-Shirazi confessed to a relative shortly before his death that he was secretly a follower of the Baha’i Faith.

28. Although the exact Station of Abdu’l-Baha is unique, note the similarities with the concept of the Shi’i Imam, the Sufi “Perfect Man” (kamal-i-insan), and the Shi’i marja’ at-taqlid (source of imitation to which all should turn and whose legal pronouncements all should follow).

29. Abdu’l-Baha, Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha (Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1968).

30. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, Selected Letters (Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1974), p. 22.

31. Ibid.

32. The Baha’i administrative order is composed of two branches, the rulers (consisting of elected bodies known as assemblies) and the learned (appointed individuals). The assemblies, while basing their decisions on consensus and consultation, are to be obeyed in their final decisions, thereby preserving the unity of the community. The assembly members are not accountable to the electorate, and are expected to make decisions according to the sincere promptings of their own conscience after consultation. Individual assembly members, however, have no authority apart from the assembly within the community.

33. Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah (Oxford: George Ronald, 1992), p. 296.

34. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 23.

35

. Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl (London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1969), p.55.



36. Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, p. 14-15.

37. Principles of Baha’i Administration, A Compilation, (London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1950), p. 44.

38. Principles of Baha’i Administration, A Compilation, p.42.

39. “Spiritual Institutions, The Unique Nature of Baha’i Institutions,” 2000 National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States.

40. Note that in the Usuli-Akhbari debate, the Usulis took the position that it is possible to know the meaning of the Qur’an and Traditions through the use of reason, while the Akhbaris took the position that it was only possible to know the meaning of the texts through authoritative interpretations by the Imams. See Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p. 223. I have not argued here that the text of the Baha’i Writings necessarily accord with the rational intellect, only that any matters not made explicit by the text of the Writings and their authorized interpretations may be determined through the use of rational intellect and reasoning by analogy.

41. The Constitution of the Universal House of Justice, http://bahai library.org/published.uhj/constitution.html.

42. The Constitution of the Universal House of Justice, http://bahai library.org/published.uhj/constitution.html.

43. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 200.


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