Saturday, March 15, 2008

Decree-263 and the Persecution of Egyptian Baha'is (Part-3)

In the previous two episodes, posted here and here, the impact of Presidential Decree-263 on the Baha'is of Egypt was reviewed. In this post, cited from the Baha'i International Community, one of the primary intentions of the decree was meant to incite hatred against the Baha'is, harass them and and inflame public opinion towards them. Future episodes will illustrate some concrete examples of the consequences of such strategy.

Incitement to Hatred

Although Egypt's secular Government is not formally bound by traditional Islamic law under the Constitution, it has nevertheless apparently paid close attention to the fatwas issued by the Islamic hierarchy.

Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (al-Azhar, Cairo, Egypt)

The source of many of the fatwas and statements against the Bahá'ís is the Islamic Research Academy at Al-Azhar Unversity, which, as noted, issued the 15 December 2003 fatwa, along with numerous others. Often containing a profuse amount of erroneous information about the history, teachings and practices of the Bahá'í Faith, these fatwas and statements essentially boil down to a venomous portrayal of the Faith as a heretical "false creed," while characterizing its followers as "unclean," "infidels," and/or "immoral." Some of the fatwas also wrongly connect the Faith with Zionism and/or colonialism — buzzwords that seem calculated to incite hatred.

Members of the Academy of Islamic Research of the Al-Azhar University are government appointees, whose salaries come out of the public purse, thus giving these fatwas tacit official approval.

While Bahá'ís cannot presume to know the precise motivation for such attacks, they believe that they stem in large part from the characteristic sense of misunderstanding and fear that often occurs when a new religion emerges from the matrix of a well established orthodoxy. It is a pattern that has been repeated through the ages; virtually all of the world's great religions have faced intense persecution in their early years.

Central to Bahá'í belief is the idea that God has progressively revealed religious truth to humanity through a series of Divine Messengers, each of Whom has founded a great religion.

These Messengers have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad; the most recent of such Messengers is Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), who lived in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Palestine.

The idea that there should be new Messengers of God after Muhammad is viewed by many Muslims as heresy. In the Qur'an, Muhammad referred to Himself as the "Seal of the Prophets," and most Muslim scholars interpret this to mean that He would be the last Messenger of God. Many of the Egyptian fatwas make reference to this point — albeit with much irrational vituperation against the Bahá'í view.

Bahá'ís, however, believe that the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh pose no contradiction to Islamic teachings or those of any of the other revealed religions. Bahá'ís understand that Muhammad ended or "sealed" the prophetic cycle. Then, in fulfillment of the promise found in all of the world's religions for a long anticipated era of peace and enlightenment, Bahá'u'lláh brought new teachings suitable for the creation of a peaceful and prosperous global civilization.

Further, Bahá'u'lláh advocated a series of progressive social principles. These include: equality between women and men; the elimination of all forms of prejudice; recognition of the essential oneness of the world's great religions; the elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth; universal education; the independent investigation of truth; the harmony of science and religion; and the establishment of a world federal system, based on collective security and the oneness of humanity.

As well, some fundamentalist Muslims find the progressive nature of these teachings, such as the equality of the sexes and the harmony of science and religion, as antithetical to Islam.

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