Symbolic Quranic exegesis in Baha'u'llah's Book of certitude: the exegetical creation of the Bahai faith
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AbstractNineteenth century Islam saw the rise of several messianic movements of which only one broke decisively from Islam: the Bahâ'î Faith. Its founder, Bahâ'u'llâh, In 1862 revealed In Baghdad a work of some 200 pages in Persian, known as the Book of Certitude [Persian: Kitâb-i îqân]. Written on the eve of his proclamation to European and Middle Eastern monarchs and pontiffs that the world must inevitably unite, this work proved critical in the formulation of Bahâ'î ideology. Islamic reform became world reform, In Bahâ'u'llâh's professed mission as the "World-Reformer" sent to "unify the world." Bahâ'u'llâh's spiritual authority therefore became a key issue. Though the Book of Certitude focuses on the Qur'ân, it does so for purposes of legitimation rather than edification. To qualify the Book of Certitude as the most important modern work of Quranic exegesis outside the Muslim world is tempting but inappropriate, since the purpose of the work is to point beyond the Qur'ân itself. A transition from exegesis (advance legitimation) to ideology (overt legislation) served to create the "suprareligious ecumen" which Bahâ'u'llâh sought to establish-free of Islamic political claims. This thesis will take particular interest in how Bahâ'u'llâh overcomes theoretical obstacles to a realized eschaton, the most formidable of which is Islam's doctrine of revelatory finality founded on the Quranic designation of Muhammad as the "Seal of the Prophets" (Q. 33/40). Bahâ'u'llâh sought to disenchant popular as well as clerical speculations on the eschaton, the impossibility of literal fulfilment of which effectively preempted its realization. This thesis will argue that Bahâ'u'llâh advanced rhetorical-style arguments to establish that figuration underlies eschatological symbolism in the Gospels and the Qur'ân. Once Interpreted, symbols in prophecy are contemporized within Bahâ'u'llâh's own historical present, leaving the reader to accept or reject their fulfillment. Classical Islamic approaches to symbolism will be critically assessed as to precedent, leaving aside questions of dependence. The Mu'tazilî/Ash'arî controversy over anthropomorphisms in the Qur'ân provided the historical stimulus for investigating the symbolic or deep structure of the Qur'ân. The Islamic disciplines of rhetoric and philosophy made their own contributions to the discussion of figuration and symbolism. Mysticism rendered the Qur'ân more experiential and a symbolic blueprint of the heart's spiritual landscape was drawn, while sectarian exegesis opened up new vistas for the legitimation of authority in Islam. As to Bahâ'u'llâh's own hermeneutic, this thesis will take Wansbrough's observations on the interdynamics of rhetorical and allegorical exegesis as a theoretical point of departure. Baha'u'llah's exegeses will be analyzed within what Wansbrough terms "procedural devices" employed across the spectrum of the classical exegetical tradition. A survey of the range of explicative elements in the Book of Certitude will tested for patterns of rhetorical-style appeal (rationalization) to Quranic figuration seen as the substratum of symbolism. The presence of symbolism demands allegorical interpretation. As an exegetical constant, Bahâ'u'llâh extends anti-anthropomorphism to eschatological imagery, to identify the expected encounter with God as encounter with God's Prophet. This eschatological savior-figure Is Identified as the Bab (d. 1850), considered the precursor to a greater "Manifestation of God" with whom Bahâ'u'llâh implicitly identifies, betraying an element of Baha'u'llah's own messianic secrecy. Exegesis established a doctrinal foundation for the Faith Baha'u'llah was to create. In the course of events, the Book of Certitude played an important role in establishing Bahâ'u'llâh's authority as eschatological deliverer and thus as lawgiver. A bridge to a new body of doctrine, the Book of Certitude In effect served as preamble to Bahâ'u'llâh's non-exegetical teachings. Sociomoral concomitants of Baha'u'Ilah's new symbolic universe-linkages struck between personal morality and world order-represent Bahâ'u'llâh's subsequent legislative activity.
Bibliography: p. 297-318.