Posted by: samandal | November 23, 2009

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, II: The Shadow on the Sun

Díyáfat-i-Qawl, the Feast of Speech

“I am a Doorkeeper of the Heart, not a lump of wet clay!”                                (Rábi‘a al-‘Adawiyya)

The interpersonal dynamics of this struggle must have been complex. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seems to have projected his own enraged anima, the repressed feminine elements of his psyche, onto Muhammad-‘Alí, who consequently came to represent the inferior qualities and primitive tendencies of the shadow archetype, the very embodiment of the evil betrayer. Muhammad-‘Alí thus became the shadow reflex of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the vilified scapegoat of the Bahá’í Faith for which the category of Covenant-breaker was created and applied in perpetuity, irrespective of its moral legitimacy or contextual accuracy. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow it will cast.

The Covenant-breaker is now the scapegoated, despised and rejected Other onto whom institutionally obedient Bahá’ís project precisely those attributes that are most characteristic of themselves. It is actually this unintegrated shadow that lies at the root of religion itself and, for the purposes of this entry, the Bahá’í Faith in particular. This unintegrated shadow must be assimilated for the Faith to reach its full potential; otherwise, hostility rather than reconciliation will continue to be the result. The Council of Regents of the Tarbíyat Bahá’í Community holds no power of interpretation, does not engage in partisan polemics, and does not declare anyone a Covenant-breaker. The projection has been withdrawn.

It now seems necessary to disentangle the Bahá’í Faith from the incipient delusion of triumphalism which confuses its historical existence with its divine dispensation. When the Faith distorts the tension between its origin and its telos, it becomes, through a process of institutionalization, the opposite of what it was meant to be. A community, religious or otherwise, becomes dysfunctional when its administrative order becomes dogmatic, autocratic and dictatorial; when it encourages too much preservation and not enough innovation.

There seems an inevitability about spiritual movements that endure: they organize and ritualize into a community of common purpose—a religion. Unfortunately, religious institutions tend to mold conformity rather than that true “unity in diversity” in which all interrelate in harmonious balance. As the Bahá’í Faith has inherited a literalism of scriptural words similar to that found within Shí‘í Islám, the need to contextualize the text of scripture within its historical context (in order to understand its implications and respect its integrity) is of utmost value, for the fundamentalists in all religions betray little tolerance for even minor deviations.


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