The Lamp, volume 5 Number 1

The Lamp

A Newsletter Produced by the Wilmette Institute

Volume 5, Number 1, March 2000

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          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
          Student News
          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 Home study in preparation for the summer session begins May 1.

Wilmette Institute Subscribes to Toll-Free number: 1-877-WILMETTE

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.


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 (address below).

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:

2. Louhelen Bahá'í School, Davison, Michigan, USA, October 6-8, 2000
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 23-26, 2000
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:

    Irfan Colloquium
    Bahá'í National Center
    1233 Central Street
    Evanston, IL 60201-1611
    Phone: 1-847-733-3501
    Fax: 1-847-733-3502

Student News

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 them.)
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 pioneer.
4. After they sign the card, if they have questions (because of family members, ministers
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 problems.

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% activity).

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 following:

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 laws.

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 29-Aug. 12
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 speech.

For more information about the Bahá'í Faith, the Wilmette Institute, or its courses, contact:
    Wilmette Institute
    536 Sheridan Road
    Wilmette, IL 60091 USA

    Phone: 1-877-WILMETTE
    Fax: 1-877-WILMETTE, dial 0

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 are encouraged to forward it to friends. If you do not receive the electronic version and would like to, you may do so either by

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Copyright 2000 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States.
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