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The University of Haifa Lectures in Bahá’í Studies

Edited By Soli Shahvar

This volume brings together a selection of essays from the Lecture Series in Bahá’í studies at the University of Haifa. Each chapter explores an aspect of the Bahá’í religion, including its history, community, culture and theoretical perspectives on contemporary issues. The authors discuss topics including the family and descendants of the Báb (founder of the religion from which the Bahá’í Faith emerged), the influential role of Bahá’í schools in the modernization of education in Iran, the process of introducing the law of monogamy into the Iranian Bahá’í community, early connections between Swiss citizens and Bahá’ís in the Middle East, the rich and varied landscape of Persian Bahá’í poetry, and the role of African Americans in the development of the US Bahá’í community, particularly with regard to race relations and the principle of the oneness of humanity. Also presented in this volume are Bahá’í perspectives on contemporary topics including changing conceptions of work and work values, the role of apologetics in interfaith dialogue, and the issue of ‘defamation of religions’ in international human rights discourse. This book will be of interest to readers in various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences who want to become informed in more depth about a wider range of topics in the emerging field of Bahá’í studies.
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1. The Goodly Gifts: A Brief History of the Afnán Family

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The relatives of Siyyid ‘Alí-Muḥammad, the Báb, founder of the Bábí Faith and forerunner of the Bahá’í Faith, are known as the ‘Afnán’ [Twigs]. In this chapter, I present an overview of the Afnán family, including the family’s role in the propagation of the Bahá’í Faith and its place in Iranian society.1 As a narrative, rather than an analytic, history, it provides an outline of the ‘demographics’ of the Afnáns – the members’ places of residence, movements and emigration, social position and standing in the community, trades and professions, notable achievements and services to the Bahá’í Faith.

Both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh refer to Themselves in Their writings as the Sadratu’l-Muntahá – the Sacred Lote-Tree, the Tree beyond which there is no passing.2 Bahá’u’lláh extended the range of this image by giving His sons the title of ‘Aghṣán’ [Branches] and the women in His family that of ‘Varaqát’ [Leaves]. He likewise gave the relatives of the Báb the title of ‘Afnán’. He addresses them in His Book of the Covenant in the following words: ‘O ye My Aghṣán, My Afnán and My Kindred! We exhort you to fear God, to perform praiseworthy deeds and to do that which is meet and seemly and serveth to exalt your station’.3 This chapter focuses on individual Afnán whose lives were representative of the major trends in the development of...

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