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The principle of ‘mutatis mutandis’

June 10, 2010

I started writing occasional blogs for Bahai Rants (bahairants.com) several years ago and I intend to continue to do this as time permits. In August 2009 I wrote a blog on the topic of homosexuality and equal rights in response to recent changes in the U.K. (linked here).

There are over 500 responses on this blog. So I started a blog here listing some of my responses and thoughts. This blog is now ‘Part two’ because that got too long.

Responses to this blog are moderated, mainly for practical reasons: I couldn’t cope the traffic that the Bahai Rants blog has. If you wish to be 100% sure your response is aired, then post it on Bahai Rants where I am likely to find it and if not, someone else will. Each of my comments below links to where it appears on bahairants.com:


Sonja’s comment posted on 24 April 2010
BahaiReply wrote: “We both know that neither R. Jackstrong-Ingram nor R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram are authoritative interpreters of the sacred writings”
Jackson didn’t make up the principle of ‘mutatis mutandis’, his quotation:

“Following from the principle of mutatis mutandis it is not simply a case of what is expressed as from a man to a woman incorporates from woman to man, and vice versa, but that gendered language is in fact rendered degendered. This is made explicit in other writings where it is stated that women are as men in this dispensation. Gendered textual usage should be read as gender inclusive.
Thus, although licit sex is limited to marriage, it could be regarded as a valid reading of the text to consider the sexes of the partners unspecified and irrelevant.”

(link to his paper on Scribd)

is a response to the following quotation from the introduction of the Kitab-i-aqdas, penned by The Universal House of Justice.

“In general, the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are stated succinctly. An example of this conciseness can be seen in the fact that many are expressed only as they apply to a man, but it is apparent from the Guardian’s writings that, where Bahá’u’lláh has given a law as between a man and a woman, it applies mutatis mutandis between a woman and a man unless the context makes this impossible.
For example, the text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas forbids a man to marry his father’s wife (i.e. his stepmother), and the Guardian has indicated that likewise a woman is forbidden to marry her stepfather. This understanding of the implications of the Law has far-reaching effects in light of the fundamental Bahá’í principle of the equality of the sexes, and should be borne in mind when the sacred Text is studied. That men and women differ from one another in certain characteristics and functions is an inescapable fact of nature and makes possible their complementary roles in certain areas of the life of society; but it is significant that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has stated that in this Dispensation “Equality of men and women, except in some negligible instances, has been fully and categorically announced.”
p. 8, accessed from: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/KA/ka-2.html

BahaiReply continues: “so are u saying when Bahá’u’lláh said, “Beware that ye take not unto yourselves more wives than two” he also meant two husbands? That doesn’t make much sense. He is obviously referring to a specific Islamic tradition that he was changing.”

It seems that you are choosing to ignore the introduction and the principle of equality expressed in the use of the principle of ‘mutatis mutandis’ and have decided you know that Baha’u’llah’s intentions were only from a male point of view in a marriage, whereas to quote Sen on his blog,

“(m)any laws that are stated briefly in the Aqdas are detailed in the Bayan”
and if you went to the Bayan and can read Persian, you would find what Sen has translated into English on his blog:

“If a man or woman proves incapable of having a child, it is legitimate for the spouse who is not infertile (whichever it may be) to marry again after having obtained the permission of the other party, but not without her permission”

Persian Bayan, wahid 8 section 15

Link to Sen’s blog, “The puzzle of the Aqdas…” which discusses this more

Sonja’s comment posted on 9 Feb 2010
The article by Jackson Armstrong-Ingram,
“The Provisions for Sexuality in the Kitab-i-Aqdas in the Context of Late Nineteenth Century Eastern and Western Sexual Ideologies” is

here: bahai-library.org/conferences/sex.aqdas.html and available on Scribd

In the Questions + Answers section of the Aqdas, liwaat is translated as sodomy. In the Aqdas, the section referring to ‘boys’ is translated as pedaesty.
This correlates with Jackson’s argument that “Both zina and liwat are sexual relations that take place outside of a context in which the long term rights of both participants are regarded. Unlawful sex is literally unprotected sex — it takes place in relationships that are not associated with social supports and long-term obligations. Lawful sex, as defined in the Aqdas, takes place in marriages, which are relationships embedded in a network of familial support and providing for the mutual development of the partners.”

In my searching around the only texts I have found that refer to homosexuality have been penned by secretaries writing Letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

When Shoghi Effendi was writing in his role as official interpreter of the Bahai
Writings he cites the scripture he is interpreting. Sen’s essay “More interpretive principles” bahai-library.org/articles/interpretive.principles.html gives some examples of this.


In the Aqdas there is no source given in the section of the Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, so I can only assume that it is not the case that the secretary who wrote that letter actually could read Baha’u’llah’s mind, rather the writer wrote this assuming, based on his or her own’s knowledge of the Bahai Faith, that this was a Bahai Teaching.

“A clear distinction is made in our Faith between authoritative interpretation and the interpretation or understanding that each individual arrives at for himself from his study of its teachings.
While the former is confined to the Guardian, the latter, according to the guidance given to us by the Guardian himself, should by no means be suppressed. In fact such individual interpretation is considered the fruit of man’s rational power and conducive to a better understanding of the teachings, provided that no disputes or arguments arise among the friends and the individual himself understands and makes it clear that his views are merely his own. Individual interpretations continually change as one grows in
comprehension of the teachings…”

(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual
believer, May 27, 1966) (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 311-312)

That leaves us with the question then, when is something penned by Shoghi Effendi to be considered interpretation, hence unchangeable, and how can we treat the status of the ten of thousands of Letters written on his behalf.


Sen has written a few posts on these topics. One is here:
“Anything Shoghi Effendi said is Baha´i doctrine”
[click to read this in a new window]

The following letter indicates that Shoghi Effendi did not want Bahais to place too much emphasis on these letters and that they are intended for the addresse.

“He has also said that whenever he has something of importance to say, he invariably communicates it to the National Spiritual Assembly or in his general letters. His personal letters to individual friends are only for their personal benefit and even though he does not want to forbid their publication, he does not wish them to be used too much by the Bahá’í News. Only letters with special significance should be published there.”

(Letter Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi 1932.)

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