Monday, January 08, 2007

A Clairvoyant Reflection on the Egyptian Baha'i Case

Mr. Is'haq El-Sheikh is a regular columnist in AlAyam daily newspaper published in Bahrain. It should be noted that this journalist is not a Baha'i. He is well known for his straight talk, his clairvoyant thought and intellectual objectivity and honesty. As he usually writes, the article was authored in Arabic, and the English translation does not do justice to its style and its literary superiority.


[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets [ ].]

Al-Ayam [Bahrain Daily Newspaper]
4 January 2007

[Column: “With the People” by Is’haq El-Sheikh]

Al-Baha’iyyah [Baha’ism] and the right to practise religious rites

The sublimity of this divine Bahá [glory] was reacting with and reflected by the spirit and conscience of people as a joyfulness based on the principle of the unity of humanity, aimed at creating eternal happiness in their lives and consecrating them towards establishing a just peace on the face of the globe. From light, bursts forth Al-Bahá [the glory] in an exalted illumination, ennobling the souls [of people], calling to truth in beauty, loveliness and splendour.

From the dawn of history the heavenly [Divine] and non-heavenly religions have called for love and peace for the sake of salvation and good deeds among the people...and if the three heavenly religions call for love, Al-Baha’iyyah [Baha'i Faith], as a new religion, considers that it summarises and develops the achievement [essence] of these religious ideologies and elevates them to the spirit of the age and its feature of rapidly shrinking distances between nations and peoples, placing them in a home in one small village.

Not once--since its inception--has the Bahá’í religion taken one stand against the three heavenly religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, or any other religion. Rather, it started to spread its splendour in Bahá’u’lláh and the justice of His light, calling, reiterating and blessing--uncovering [throwing light on] the Bahá of glory of God in the heavens and on earth, through peace, love and the spreading of good-will among people.... It is as if he is repeating the Christian “Glory to God on high, peace on earth and love for all,” or the Judaic call: “Love one another, be in fellowship...thus will God love you,” or the Muhammadan call: “The doctrine of God lieth in loving people” [all paraphrased by translator]. This is what Al-Baha’iyyah means by: “This is that which hath descended from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old. We have taken the inner essence thereof and clothed it in the garment of brevity, as a token of grace unto the righteous, that they may stand faithful unto the Covenant of God, may fulfill in their lives His trust, and in the realm of spirit obtain the gem of Divine virtue.”

Al-Bahaiyyah did not litter our paths with ugliness [indecency]; it did not declare hatred and enmity against our religion nor did it refute its spirit of true forbearance and tolerance; rather it has enshrined its luminous station, and cast the splendour of its enlightenment on the face of the earth in justice, love, peace and human solidarity and unity.

It was the International Declaration of Human Rights, perfected through earthly volition, promising all countries, including the Arab nations--with their customary apprehensive mistrust [sentence not completed]--that called for freedom of religion and the right of all nations to embrace a religion and a belief or not to have a belief. This, we see, is in harmony with the Muhammadan religion’s call for the right of religious freedom, and which the Holy Qur’an affirms: “You have your religion and I have mine” [paraphrased].

The purport of all of the above is to explain what has caused the indignation of all human rights proponents on the face of the earth when the sad and distressing news were reported about an oppressive and inhumane persecution of the [Egyptian] Bahá’í minority as it was deprived of the most basic of citizenship rights, following their natural right to belong to the Bahá’í religion--a right that is affirmed by all countries that are signatory to the Human Rights Convention. This has resulted in a big disappointment in the fairness of the Egyptian judiciary which has deprived them of citizenship rights. The justification for the court ruling was that the Egyptian constitution does not recognise any [religion] except the three heavenly religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism; as though laws and constitutions, that have been superseded by life and worn out by the passage of time, are holy and irrevocable scriptures that cannot be changed for the better.

It is known that the Egyptian Bahá’í minority did not ask for the Bahá’í Faith to be recognized, even though it is one of the rights of citizenship.... Its wish was simply to be free to carry out the requirement of the civil law that they must obtain identification cards without lying about their religious beliefs. Possessing such a card is a common right to which every native born Egyptian is entitled. It is indeed very strange that the custodians of the law would themselves enforce the violation of a government policy that all citizens without exception are expected to observe.... This has been pointed out by the Bahá’í Universal House of Justice in referring to the ordeal of the Egyptian Bahá’í minority; and the Universal House of Justice rightly poses this question in this regard, saying: “But to what purpose were these three religions invoked? Was it to justify the exclusion of certain citizens from exercising their civil rights? Would this not amount to a misuse of the authority of these faiths to perpetrate an injustice that offends the high standard of justice to which they hold their adherents?” [a direct quote from the Arabic translation]. The Universal House of Justice further affirms that the ruling issued against the Egyptian Bahá’í minority in not granting the personal ID was “unreasonable not only because it is contrary to prescriptions set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory, but more especially because the sacred scriptures of Islam extol tolerance as a precept of social stability.”

All the democratic, enlightened and forward-thinking forces that care about the application of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights raise their voices, in solidarity and support of all religious minorities alike--those within the Judaic, Christian and Muslim religions and those without--calling for the lifting of oppression from these minorities and the integration of their citizenship in the political, social, cultural and religious life of society, the same as all citizens whose rights are upheld by the observed laws and constitutions.

The Bahá’í order is a religious, world-wide, humane, peaceful and tolerant order in its principles, rites and daily observances as well as its attitude to other religions. To wage war against it and harass it is an unethical act that contradicts the spirit of Islam and its lofty ideals of treating other religions with tolerance and humane Islamic virtues, encapsulated in the spirit of [this verse]: “Wherefore have you enslaved people when their mothers have birthed them free?” The age of slavery has gone for ever; let the hands and minds and consciences of all the religions on earth be raised up in dialogue, love and brotherly solidarity for the sake of human justice and against tyranny, persecution and enslaving other rights and religions.



    I am happy to see that there are some decent people who exist
    And are not threatened by our existence.... We may not be able
    To convince everyone that Bahá'u'lláh does speak the absolute truth

    But at the very least we can convince them that we are no threat
    To anyone who follows the TRUE teachings of Moses, Christ and Mohammed

  2. I applaud this decent, honest, and courageous writer. He is fair-minded and to the point. May he be an example of truthfulness in reporting to those journalists who have twisted the facts, sidelined the issue of civil rights, and instead of addressing the issues, they hurled insults. This journalist is a notable exception. He mirrors forth the true meaning of Islam, understanding, and compassion!

  3. Thank you both for your wise comments. The world would indeed become a much better place if blind hatred is abandoned, and instead detached examination of the truth is practiced. Prejudice tends to obscure people's vision even if the truth is as bright as the sun. With prejudice, people simply become blindfolded and will shut out reality....

  4. It seem clear to me that this guy is a Bahai who simply hasn't declared.I hope someone will offer him a card.He knows who Baha'u'llah is.

  5. Sorry for my ignorance, but what is the real influence of this Bahraini newspaper in Egypt?

    I don’t know the Middle East reality. But in Europe very few national newspapers may cause some influence in other European countries. And it is more likely to see newspaper from a big country (Germany/France/Great Britain/Italy) to cause influence in smaller countries than the opposite.

  6. Anonymous,
    Out of respect, it would be preferable not to call this gentleman "this guy." I am sure that you did not mean it that way, and that you will appreciate the respect and dignity Mr. Sheikh deserves.

  7. Marco,
    I do not personally know the answer to your question, but perhaps other readers can. I know however that this is a very respectful newspaper. Also, the fact that it is published in the Arab world, and has widespread readership in that region, is very interesting and shows the degree of tolerance and enlightenment spreading throughout the region.

  8. I just want to clarify a subtle point from the first 'anonymous' comment here about "absolute truth". Shoghi Effendi clearly states that religious truth is not absolute:

    "The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh, the followers of His Faith firmly believe, is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society." (Shoghi Effendi)

    As for the article itself, I'm very impressed at it's lucid thought, even though as Baha'is we're biased to like the message itself. This is really a nice find. Thanks again for sharing and for continuing to keep this site updated.

  9. To reflect on Anon-2's "youthful comment", For this Arabic syndicated Columnist to speak so openly and quote so extensively from the Universal House of Justice, shows a) a great deal of courage, I doubt many people can really grasp the shock of his editors but probably b) out of respect for his record of integrity, and artistic expression with words which may be an Arab tradition, his work was published unedited. I am saying this only based on my experience as a small-town US reporter for a few years.

    I would be really curious about the letters to the editor reacting to this column. However people in Bahrain may not be as impressed by the column as people outiside the country. Having this in Arabic means it is much more accessible to the Egyptian readers/ viewers who are gradually becomming aware of the Bahai teaching.

    Someone should do an interview with Arabic bookstore suppliers and find out how many requests for Bahai related books have come in because of this case.

    This case, as they say in the media "has legs", or "has momentum". The longer it plays out in the Egyptian government, the better it is for the Bahai community. Of course the numerous articles filed will not all get printed, but right not writing a story about the Bahai situation in Egypt and giving it a local angle, tieing it into real local Bahais, or making it a broad human rights issue, or a discussion point on religion and government, or particular points within the Bahai doctrine, is a long gravy train for the beat reporters because the story has such legitimacy from international organizations, previous publications, etc.

    Both the "left" and the traditional fundamentalist can find common grounds in the elements of the Bahai story in Egypt. Two elements of society that usually have little to do with one another, the secular humanists, and the fundamentalists can, I think, find some common food in the Bahais in Egypt struggle for basic citizen ship rights. USA High schools that don't touch religion can possibly treat this as a sociology lesson studying the civil rights struggles of a non-Afro-American minority and the steps they have gone through to comply with the Egyptian government requirements. The contradictory regulations issued by various agencies within the government, what forces might be motivating the individual agencies to issue rulings in the way they have done. etc.
    Finally the Egyptian Supreme court!
    I don't think the analysis of their ruling has yet done justice to the complexities of some political or social forces they are attempting to respond to. There is alot of material in that case ruling and a study of their previous rulings on similar cases that has yet to be done and will offer more strength, at least in the legal circles for the continuation of this story in the NEWS.
    I wish someone could put some public service adds on the Egyptian TV about some of this without calling the actual names. (I'm joking).
    And if this could just spill over into another country as well.

    Edo River rising

  10. my reference to him as a guy intended no disrespect. Base on his thoughts, he is a bahai. If his way of life reflect Bahai ideals, then he a Bahai that has not declared.i was overjoyed by his expressions.

  11. Kianoosh,
    Thank you for pointing out this essential element.

  12. Anonymous-2,
    I understand what you meant, and appreciate your candor.

  13. Edo River,
    As you must realize by now, there have been over 400 articles published in the Egyptian press alone regarding this case. In addition to its worldwide coverage, the interest it has generated is unprecedented. The significance of all this is yet to be seen and realized....

  14. Magnificent article from an open-minded soul. This is essential reading for all Americans who believe that people like this journalist do not exist in the Middle East. It might just change a few attitudes in the worlds remaining superpower, God willing.

  15. Phillipe,
    Thank you for bringing this important point-of-view to the discussion.

  16. Dear marco
    sometimes small countery have a great effect on others. when this bahrini article , All media in middle east take from each other & somtimes ,TV channel invite a writer like that & all arab world saw him & know his thinking & that affect many audiance.Egptian writer now start to speak about Bahrin comunity & its experiment in freedom of religion toleranc to all residence & how this small arab countery stared few months ago to give its nationality non baharini residence for long time ,for that they are looking here in Cairo to bahrin as a modle for tolerance.i wish that u can understand what i want to till u
    smile rose

  17. 400 articles, is quite impressive. I don't have the experience or resources to compare that with other issues in Egypt or anywhere. But this creates a context for others to speak who wouldn't necessarily be the ones to speak first. The bandwagon effect.

    There are so relatively few official Bahais in Egypt that they are a kind of minor celebrity with all the media attention.

    400 article in the print media, I wonder how the statistics are for radio and TV? Is radio more flexible or TV regarding what they are interested in and allowed to discuss. I would think the government keeps a much tighter control over TV than radio or the print media.

    Bilo Do you agree?

    Edo River rising


  18. Edo River,
    Regarding TV and Radio, to the best of my knowledge, there have been approximately 12 hours of TV interviews and programs so far, and to a lesser extent a number of radio interviews. These numbers are conservative though. Perhaps one of the other readers can elaborate on this.


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