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Sacred Text, Social Hierarchy, World Polity: The Journey of a Single Sentence That Shaped a World Religion

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Among the central tropes of Baha’i socio-political theology is a single sentence from the Persian Bayan which, alluded to in Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i Aqdas became, in Shoghi Effendi’s interpretation, the ‘myth of origin’, in the sense of a starting point in sacred narrative, for the Baha’i Administrative Order structuring the Baha’i community, and for the Baha’i World Order envisaged as its culmination, ultimate purpose and eventual fruit. The passage in question states, in Shoghi Effendi’s translation, ‘well is it with him who fixeth his gaze on the Order of Baha’u’llah’. Shoghi Effendi’s interpretation of that passage as alluding to a sacred socio-political entity which is the hallmark of the Baha’i revelation and is anticipated as the embodiment and structure of the millennial promise of the unification of humankind, represents a radical interpretive leap, given that the passage in the Persian Bayan in its most intuitive reading refers, not to an institutional idea, but to the compilation and arrangement of sacred Babi texts. At the heart of this seemingly incompatible usage lies the single word nazm, which may be translated as both order and arrangement.

The present paper will explore the interpretive trajectory of the word nazm, from its roots in the earliest Qur’anic hermeneutics dating from the 2nd Islamic century, to its complex articulation in the Bab’s writings, including various instances in the Persian Bayan and in the Kitabu’l-Asma’. It will contextualize these occurrences in the Bab’s subtle and esoteric (batini) cosmogony of the universe as Text, including the simultaneity and parallelism of levels of interpretation, within which the apparently inoccuous passage of the Bab is revealed to be charged with cosmological, communal and messianic dimensions, which it will be argued form the implicit substratum or at least demonstrate a substantive correlation to the counter-intuitive, although not exclusive interpretation of that passage by Shoghi Effendi as denoting likewise a communal, global and, in its deepest level, a messianic cosmic order.
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Keywords: Babism; Baha’i; Batin; Qur’an; Shoghi Effendi; World Order; hermeneutics; intertextuality; millennialism; nazm

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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