The Lamp, volume 5 Number 1
A Newsletter Produced by the Wilmette Institute
Volume 5, Number 1, March 2000
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IN THIS ISSUE:
Course on The Dispensation of Baha'u'llah Launched in Record Time
Kendall College Has Confirmed its Availability for the
Spiritual Foundations for a Global Civilization Program
Wilmette Institute Subscribes to Toll-Free number
Call for Papers and Colloquium Announcement
Feature Article: An Exchange on the Word "Masa'il"
Schedule of Upcoming Courses
Course on The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh
Launched in Record Time
When the National Spiritual Assembly announced in December 1999 that it was
asking the American Bahá'í community to study in the year 2000
three works by Shoghi Effendi (The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh
in the first quarter of 2000, The Advent of Divine Justice in the
second quarter, and The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh in the
last half), the Wilmette Institute took it as a challenge to develop, market,
and conduct three new distance-learning courses geared to fulfil the Assembly's
goals. Particularly challenging was creation of a course on The
Dispensation, study of which was scheduled to start in a month's time.
Fortunately, the Institute found a Bahá'í--Dr. Rodney Clarken, a
professor of education at Northern Michigan University--who was developing
study materials on The Dispensation and had experience creating
distance-learning courses. In a month a course description and publicity
information were drawn up, a syllabus was finalized, and publicity was
disseminated through the Institute's electronic publicity system. The time was
so short that no announcement could be made in The American
Bahá'í or even by mail.
But, in spite of the limited publicity, 107 Bahá'ís decided that
the Wilmette Institute's course offered them a way to fulfil the National
Spiritual Assembly's request. The result (with the addition of two more
students from New Zealand and one from Alaska) is the Institute's largest
distance-learning course to date and the largest number of faculty members and
mentors for a single course--seven. Almost all of the faculty members are
teaching for the Institute for the first time.
The course's listserver, DISPENSATION, has been extremely busy. During the
first week, students introduced themselves and posted their first comments.
Subsequently, they have posted comments to the list on such matters as
identifying fundamental verities in the text; listing metaphors, symbols, and
allusions; noting cause and effect statements or directives; and posing
questions that have occurred to them. Faculty have commented on postings and
answered questions. Students were asked to list "fundamental verities" because
Shoghi Effendi said he was writing the essay to "call attention" to them
(The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 99). While the
contents of all the postings about fundamental verities have overlapped, most
have identified something unique and all have used different language,
providing readers with a fascinating variety of perspectives. Some excellent
insights into the Guardian's essay have been offered.
The course continues through the month of March and is followed by a course on
The Advent of Divine Justice from April 1 through May 31.
Kendall College Has Confirmed its Availability for the
Spiritual Foundations for a Global Civilization Program
In early February, Kendall College confirmed that it is able to host the
Spiritual Foundations for a Global Civilization program this summer. A
classroom for thirty students will be provided and dormitory space for
thirty-five in air-conditioned double rooms. The cafeteria--which serves
gourmet food prepared by the students of Kendall's cooking program--will
provide three meals per day, Monday through Friday, and one on Saturday.
Kendall is a fifteen-minute walk from the House of Worship, a ten-minute walk
from the Bahá'í National Center, and a twenty-minute walk from
downtown Evanston, providing students with a central location. Parking is
available for students bringing their cars to Wilmette.
This year's program should be particularly attractive to many
Bahá'ís. The major world religions--Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam--will all be studied from the Bahá'í
perspective, thereby helping Bahá'ís learn ways to explain the
Faith to people of other religious backgrounds and to carry out a religious
dialogue with them. The great, eternal questions of philosophy and their
relationship to the Bahá'í teachings will be explored. The basics
of Bahá'í theology--the concepts of God, Manifestation, and
revelation, the nature of humanity and creation, the purpose of the afterlife,
and the mysteries of the Covenant--will be discussed. The life and ministry of
the Báb, the Bábí movement He began, and the life of
Bahá'u'lláh through 1863 will be studied. Classes on the
Kitáb-i-Íqán will allow students to study that central
work of Bahá'í scripture in detail. Finally, workshops on public
speaking and on teaching the Faith will help students learn how to convey their
knowledge to others.
A distinguished faculty will offer presentations and lead discussion, and many
will stay in the dormitory with the students so that they may participate in
the program's social and spiritual life. Among them will be Roya Ayman, a
professor of industrial psychology who leads many courses on public speaking;
Ghassem Bayat, a researcher and author who has published on the writings of
Bahá'u'lláh; Todd Lawson, a scholar of the writings of the
Báb; Muhammad Husseini, a lawyer who is writing a book about
Bahá'u'lláh; Dann May and Robert Stockman, professors of
comparative religion; and Auxiliary Board member Farhad Sabetan. The graduating
students of the Spiritual Foundations program will coordinate the workshop on
teaching the Faith, and several of them will serve as dormitory coordinators.
The keynote speaker at the graduation dinner will be Wilma Ellis, a member of
the Continental Board of Counselors in the Americas, a former member of the
National Spiritual Assembly, and a former vice-president of Spelman College.
With the summer session shortened from three weeks to two and the tuition
reduced to $700, this year's program is expected to be accessible to many
people. Since space is limited, students are urged to apply as soon as
possible. Contact Pam Mondschein at our new toll-free number, 1-877-WILMETTE,
for an application, or download the application materials online at
http://wilmetteinstitute.org/applications/foundations.html. Home study
in preparation for the summer session begins May 1.
Wilmette Institute Subscribes to Toll-Free number:
The Wilmette Institute is pleased to announce that it has obtained a new
toll-free number: 1-877-Wilmette. An automated menu allows callers to be
connected to Pam Mondschein in Wilmette (registrar of the Spiritual Foundations
program), Jonah Winters in Ontario, Canada (registrar for the distance-learning
courses), or the voice mail of Robert Stockman (the Institute's administrator);
to listen to recorded information; or to send a fax. The communications
revolution of the last decade allows a computerized switchboard on one part of
the continent to connect callers to workers in several other parts of the
continent for mere pennies per minute. The service is expected greatly to
assist potential students in reaching the Institute with their questions.
CALL FOR PAPERS AND COLLOQUIUM ANNOUNCEMENT
The Irfan Colloquia and Seminars began in 1994 and are named after Haj Mehdi
Arjmand, an early Iranian Bahá'í of Jewish background who was an
expert in interpreting the Bible and the Qur'án. The main theme of the
COLLOQUIUM in 2000 will be Mysticism and the Bahá'í Faith (as
part of the series of colloquia on World Religions and the Bahá'í
Faith). The SEMINARS that follow the Colloquium will be devoted to the
revelation of Bahá'u'lláh in the 'Akká period (held at
London and Louhelen) and in the Istanbul period (held at Bosch). Presentations
of papers on Mysticism, the Principles of Bahá'í Theology, and
the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh are welcome. Abstracts of about 250
words should be sent in advance and as early as possible to Dr. Iraj Ayman
The three colloquia and seminars this year, which have often been attended by
Wilmette Institute faculty and students, are scheduled as follows:
1. London School of Economics, London, July 14-16, 2000
For registration: Mrs. Mirta LOPEZ-CLAROS, Flat 1, 64 Addison Road, London W14
8JL, UK; Tel. & FAX: 0171 371 6022; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Louhelen Bahá'í School, Davison, Michigan, USA, October 6-8,
For registration: Louhelen Bahá'í School, 3208 South State Road,
Davison, MI 48423-8603, USA; Tel: 810-653-5033; FAX: 810-653-7181; E-mail:
3. Bosch Bahá'í School, Santa Cruz, California, USA, November
For registration: Bosch Bahá'í School, 500 Comstock Lane, Santa
Cruz, CA 95060-9677, USA; Tel: 831-423-3387; FAX: 831-423-7564; E-mail:
For further information on program and paper presentation:
Bahá'í National Center
1233 Central Street
Evanston, IL 60201-1611
The following report was received from Alice Ferro of Afton, Oklahoma, a fourth
year student in the Spiritual Foundations program. It summarizes the teaching
successes in her area since Ridván:
We have had 6 new believers for the month of January 2000, raising the
total since Ridván to 60. If you want to know the total since January
1999, add 21. Part of the reason (I believe) that so many are becoming
Bahá'ís in this area is the cooperation by the four local
spiritual assemblies, support by the Southern Regional Council, as well as many
traveling teachers, including one Wilmette Institute instructor, one homefront
pioneer, several traveling teachers who were Wilmette Institute students, and
traveling teachers from the Eagles. Many friends have helped with deputization
for gas, scholarships for new Bahá'ís to attend
Bahá'í schools, and purchase of books and pamphlets (every new
Bahá'í has received a new prayer book and most are given prayer
beads thanks to one precious soul who makes and sends them on occasion). Again
we wish to thank everyone who has helped from all over the United States and
from other countries, many of whom sent books and pamphlets.
New believers are taught when they declare:
1. The obligation of daily prayer, and they are given the means to start
2. The duty to study and, as soon as possible, they are given the means to
a. go to schools
b. to attend individual classes to fit their schedule, not ours. (For example,
three of the newest Bahá'ís are farmers who have work to do in
the evening with cows, chickens, etc. so we have afternoon classes for
3. They are encouraged to teach their family and friends or at least have a
fireside in their home with a visiting traveling teacher or home front
4. After they sign the card, if they have questions (because of family
etc.) about the Antichrist, the idea that the Faith is a cult, the nature of
the resurrection, the statement that Christ is the only way, and other matters,
we find the answers and deepen them by showing that the answer is in both the
Bible and the Bahá'í writings and that the two scriptures agree
and complement each other. In other words, they have faith, but it is young
and must be guarded, cultivated, and taught. The Bahá'ís in this
area calm their fears, solve their problems to the best of their ability, and
show that they love and care for them even if they can't solve all their own
This has resulted in many of our new Bahá'ís being active (over
50%, defined as attending at least one Bahá'í function per
month). Others are semi-active because of distance and car problems, that is,
they come when someone will pick them up and take them back or will have
classes in their homes at a time good for them. Another 10-30% are inactive
(depending on the area; some areas have 90-100% activity and others have 30%
The less active Bahá'ís are mostly those who have been attacked
by the ministers from the surrounding area. This is mostly Jay, Kansas, and
Oaks (all towns in Oklahoma). But they are still friendly and many go to the
Thursday night meetings.
Patricia Haynie of Jupiter, Florida, a third year Spiritual Foundations
student, sent the following:
Wanted to let you know what I consider to be another Wilmette Institute
achievement. The Broward County Bahá'ís (south of here) are
producing thirteen hour-long programs to promote the Faith, with a different
focus each week. I was asked to participate and did an hour with the host on
the topic of life after death. He had asked me for "credentials"--well, I am a
student of the Wilmette Institute, which he mentioned about three times in the
hour and asked me to explain it. I will honestly tell you that prior to
studying through the Wilmette Institute, there would have been no possible way
I would have agreed to do one hour of live radio on the Faith. The show was
well received and I give complete credit for the knowledge and confidence
gained to my time with the Spiritual Foundations program. Once again I find
myself so grateful that you and all the faculty and board members give so
generously of yourselves to help all of us develop our capacities, not only for
our own sakes but to allow us to better serve the Faith.
Feature Article: An Exchange on the Word "Masá'il"
The Bahá'í month of Masá'il (Questions) falls during
December. A poem on AYAT, the listserver of the course on the
Kitáb-i-Aqdas and Related Texts, triggered a remarkable series of
postings on the word during December 1999. We have edited the postings for
clarity. We provide the series to give our readers a taste of the exchange of
ideas on our listservers and the quality they can manifest.
I. Trip Bartell posted a poem titled "Man Questions, God Answers"
Ye may be free to ask what you need to ask.
Where do we begin?
Do we ask about ourselves or God?
The beginning or the end?
What is out there or what is in us?
The meaning of all or one?
Which question to ask, which one to choose?
What are we searching for?
We have the Answer, what is the question?
Where can we find out more?
But not such idle questions as men of former times were wont to dwell.
Today is the first day of the month of Questions.
Ask with tact and wisdom.
II. Brent Poirier, a faculty member for the course, posted this comment:
My personal view is that the month of Questions deals with an attribute of God
more than it deals with human questions, such as those
Bahá'u'lláh answered in the Tablet of Questions and Answers, or
the Master answered in Some Answered Questions. I think a different
kind of "questioning" is involved, such as that mentioned in Paragraph 7 --
none may "question His choice."
In The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 102, the Master writes that "On
the Day of Judgment, when men stand before their Lord, they will not be
questioned as to their education and the degree of their culture--rather will
they be examined as to their good deeds."
This type of questioning is also termed in the Holy Books as "judging," as
"sifting," as "asking," as "bringing to a reckoning," and as "assaying." It is
mentioned on p. 173 of the Kitáb-i-Íqán ("asking") and in
paragraph 162 of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas ("question His authority").
The type of questioning in Some Answered Questions is encouraged in the
Writings (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 183) but the other
kind of questioning is reserved to God and man is not permitted to do it
(Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 184).
III. Dr. Iraj Ayman, a faculty member of the Aqdas course and a member of the
Wilmette Institute Board, added this:
I would like to mention that "masá'il" in addition to "questions" also
means needs or requirements. Something is asked for because it is needed. In
Arabic masá'il is also equivalent to "háját" (needs or
requirements). The usual connotation of this word in religious usage in Persian
and Arabic is what one supplicates God to be given or provided in response to a
serious need or shortcoming.
IV. Dr. Muin Afnani, a consultant for the Wilmette Institute, provided the
The names of the months in the Bahá'í calendar are derived from a
dawn prayer for the month of fast, Ramadán, in Islam. Muslim
Shí'í scholars have written that Imám Ridá, the
eighth holy Imám, has narrated that the fifth holy Imam, Muhammad
Báqir, would say a certain prayer at dawn during the month of
Ramadán. In the prayer one beseeches God by His attributes. For example,
the prayer begins: " O my God, I beseech Thee by Thy Glory (Bahá) which
is the most glorious..." About the middle of this prayer it says: " O my God, I
beseech Thee by Thy masá'il which are loved by Thee..."
The sense of the word masá'il in this context is divine laws. Part of
our Covenant with God lies in the fact that God through His mercy provides laws
through His Manifestations in order to safeguard and guide humanity. Therefore,
one of the attributes of God is that He is The Law Giver. In fact, in Islamic
jurisprudence the word masá'il refers to a whole class of Islamic
In Islam the word masá'il has been used in many different contexts. In
the Qur'án alone, in about 150 different verses various derivatives of
this word have been used. In some of them the theme is that God answers our
questions (masá'il). Therefore, from another perspective God is the
ultimate and true Answerer to our questions: "He is the Prayer Hearing, Prayer
Answering God." So, the sense is that one of the attributes of God is the
attribute of answering questions and pleas.
I hope this is helpful. I am sure there are other possible explanations.
V. Dr .Vahid Behmardi, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University in
Beirut, then contributed this short essay to the listserver.
Concerning the name of the Bahá'í month Questions
(masá'il), as you know it is taken from the Dawn Prayer of the
Shí'ís and there, in one passage, man beseeches God by His "most
beloved Questions" in the same manner that he beseeches Him by other attributes
like Light, Power, etc. The question that raises here is: how could "Questions"
be an attribute of God since all the names of the Bahá'í months
are supposed to be words referring to nineteen divine attributes? Exactly as
God possesses Speech as one of His attributes that are manifested in His
recorded or uttered revelation, this very revelation manifests "Questions" that
come from the Revealer. In other words, exactly as we know God through his
attributes of Power, Loftiness, Light and the like, we know Him also through
the "Questions" that are found in the revealed scriptures.
For example, warning is an attribute of God because He warns people in His
revelation. Questions are also an attribute of God because He asks questions in
His revelation. Examples of this attribute manifested in the writings can be
found in parts 55 and 101 of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. The Fire Tablet is a
list of questions also. The Qur'án contains many questions as you can
see in the Surá of the Elephant. Furthermore, in Islamic traditions
concerning the Day of Judgment, it is mentioned (for example in Haqq
al-Yaqín by Fayd-i-Káshání) that after the first
blow when all living things die, God asks: li-man al-mulk (the Kingdom belongs
to Whom?), but there is no one to answer, therefore God answers Himself saying:
li-lláh al-wáhid al-qahhár (it belongs to God, the One,
the Dominant). Bahá'u'lláh confirms this in one tablet, and He
says that He raised that call and He answered Himself. Therefore, in addition
to having the attribute of Questions that He asks, Answers can be considered
another attribute of God since He has answered Himself.
Equally important is the Qur'ánic story of the first covenant between
God and humanity before He brought them into earthly existence. This is what we
call in Persian "ahd-i-alast". The first utterance of God to humanity was
indeed a question: "alastu bi-rabbikum" (am I not your Lord?) This means that
the first attribute of God that reached humanity was in the form of an uttered
question. If we take into consideration the issue of the God/human
relationship, Questions always come from God and not vice versa. Even on an
earthly level, it is normal that Bahá'u'lláh would ask a
Bahá'í "How are you?" whereas no Bahá'í would be
able to ask Him: "how are You?"
On the other hand, our questions in life are nothing more than a human
manifestation of the Questions of God, exactly as our knowledge is a human
manifestation of the Divine knowledge, and our mercy is the manifestation of
the Divine Mercy because, according to Bahá'í theology, nothing
affirmative exists without being a manifestation of one of the attributes of
God, i.e., those of the Manifestation, who is the Possessor of the Names and
Attributes. Questions in this world have an affirmative existence and therefore
they must be a manifestation of an attribute which exists, infinitely, in God
or the Manifestation.
Schedule of Upcoming Courses:
Apr.-May 2000: The Advent of Divine Justice
Apr.-Sept. 2000: The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, 1868-77
May-June 2000: Zoroastrianism for Deepening and Dialogue
May-Sept. 2000: Spiritual Foundations home study. Residential session: July
June-Aug. 2000: Islam for Deepening and Dialogue
July-Sept. 2000: The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh
Nov. 2000-Jan. 2001: Bahá'í Theology
Dec. 2000-May 2001: The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, 1877-92
All distance-learning courses include e-mail listservers for students and
faculty, regular conference calls, systematic lesson plans, and a wide variety
of learning projects to apply your learning in your local community. All
courses are available at the "introductory" level for those unsure they can
commit to taking a college level course, the "intermediate" level for those
wishing to go into more depth, and the "advanced" (graduate) level. More
information on all of them can be found on the web at
THE LAMP is the newsletter of the Wilmette Institute, established in January
1995 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the
United States to offer academic, professional, and service-oriented courses
related to the Bahá'í Faith. In addition to offering
university-level courses on Bahá'í topics, the Wilmette Institute
fosters Bahá'í scholarship; develops new, innovative curricular
materials; creates high-quality courses on teaching the Faith; and refines
Bahá'í concepts of pedagogy. It aims to produce teachers and
administrators of the Bahá'í Faith of great capacity, capable of
sharing and demonstrating Bahá'í truths in their lives and
For more information about the Bahá'í Faith, the Wilmette
Institute, or its courses, contact:
THE LAMP is produced quarterly by the Wilmette Institute. All material is
copyrighted by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of
the United States and is subject to the applicable copyright laws. Articles
from the newsletter may be copied or reproduced, provided that the following
credit is given: "Reprinted from THE LAMP, the newsletter of the Wilmette
Institute," followed by the issue's date. Recipients of the electronic version
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of the United States.