Correspondence re Aqdas, Sentence #2

Date: Tue, 2 Dec 1997
From: Steve Scholl
Subject: Re: Aqdas 2: verse 1, part 1

Thanks Jonah for kicking off the Aqdas slow read.

What caught my eye is that in the Arabic there is no reference to "Laws", which we find inserted in Shoghi Effendi's translation of this passage in the official Baha'i translation. Some scholars have argued that Baha'u'llah was less legalistic in temperment than his followers and perhaps the current Baha'i membership, that he revealed the Aqdas with some reluctance and the like. One thing we can watch for as this proceeds are the ways in which the official translation leans toward a more legalistic interpretation than the text may be offering.

Best wishes,
Steve Scholl

Date: Wed, 3 Dec 1997
From: Jonah Winters
Subject: Aqdas 2: verse 1, part 1: Laws

Dear Steve et al.,

In reference to this verse, you write "What caught my eye is that in the Arabic there is no reference to "Laws", which we find inserted in Shoghi Effendi's translation of this passage in the official Baha'i translation...."

I assume that you are referring to the word amr, which Shoghi Effendi gives as "laws," Elder as "Cause," and I chose to give as "authority." You're of course right that Shoghi Effendi and, later, Mark Hellaby et al. chose a legalistic reading of this verse. However, this reading is, I believe, quite supportable, for possible translations of amr include "order, command, instruction; decree; power, authority." So "laws" is a valid reading, I think. At the same time, it is a little bit distant from the literal meaning, which is why I chose to render it as "authority."


Date: Wed, 3 Dec 1997
From: burl barer
Subject: Re: Aqdas 2: verse 1, part 1

Steve wrote:
One thing we can watch for as this proceeds are the ways in which the official translation leans toward a more legalistic interpretation...".
Steve raises an important point: we should keep in mind that "official," in this context, is never to be considered a negative nor demeaning term. Shoghi Effendi's role as Guardian, under the care and protection of the Blessed Beauty, empowered him with interpretive abilities. We should never infer that the Guardian's authorized (official) translation is somehow flawed because it has shadings at variance with a literalistic rendering. For those who accept Baha'u'llah's Revelation and His Covenant, the Guardian's interpretive translations are invaluable for their "intentional accuracy." As we have discussed on several occasions, Shoghi Effendi was exceptionally adept at bringing out the broader implications and intentions in his English translations.

The entire translation topic is interesting -- my own books have been translated into German, French, Hebrew, and Japanese. While my Hebrew proficiency has shrunk to the point where I can only find my name on the book jacket, I could tell what the translators were doing in the German and French versions -- the German translation was not only word for word accurate, but captured the flavor; the French version was loose on specifics, compressed dialog, truncated sections, but retained the general feel of the original. As for the Japanese version, I'm at a complete loss!

Warm regards,

Date: Wed, 3 Dec 1997
From: Eric D. Pierce
Subject: re: Re: Aqdas 2: verse 1, part 1

On 3 Dec 97, Burl Barer wrote:
... We should never infer that the Guardian's authorized (official) translation is somehow [*]flawed[*] because it has shadings at variance with a literalistic rendering.
Then his translations can never be subject to even minor technical corrections, even by the research department or publishing agencies to whom the Universal House of Justice delegates activities?
On 3 Dec 97, Burl Barer wrote:
For those who accept Baha'u'llah's Revelation and His Covenant, the Guardian's interpretive translations are invaluable for their "intentional accuracy." As we have discussed on several occasions, Shoghi Effendi was exceptionally adept at bringing out the broader implications and intentions in his English translations.
I would assume that from a literary and social sciences viewpoint, the Guardian's translations are of acute interest for that and a variety of other reasons. I don't see how that precludes scholarls from doing comparative textual analysis of his translations in the context of technicial studies of a broad range of historical original language use by the other Central Figures.

I think you have skated around the real issue after tossing it on its head. What if it does appear to some scholars that the Guardian's translation *are* more legalistic than the Master's writings or Baha'u'llah's? So what. Facts are facts, at least as far as the murk of language is capable of offering them up.
Please help me out:

* Why is it that a religion that is "scientific in its method" would suspend the use of science in this area?

* I would like to know if anyone has scriptural support for the idea that the Guardian was capable of capturing the entirety of Baha'u'llah's revelation without being a Manifestation himself.

* If the Guardian's interpretations were more "legalistic" in some sense, doesn't that simply validate "legalistic" approaches as being more "Covenental" (like it or not)?

Scholars might or might not introduce significant bias when doing such work, or in offering their subjective analysis. Why not just say that you don't trust Juan's and Steve's objectivity or that you don't like their politics with regard to their analysis of "legalistic" approaches in the Guardian's writings (if that is how you feel)?


Date: Thu, 04 Dec 1997
From: Burl Barer
Subject: re: Re: Aqdas 2: verse 1, part 1

Eric D. Pierce wrote:
Why not just say that you don't trust --- and ----'s objectivity or that you don't like their politics with regard to their analysis of "legalistic" approaches in the Guardian's writings (if that is how you feel)?
The above stated issue is not of significant interest to me when considering the spiritual importance of what my Faith terms "The Most Holy Book." This book is Sacred Scripture, in whatever language or dialect into which it is translated. In short, my view (supported by the texts of the Baha'i religion) is that the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith (Shoghi Effendi) had authoritive interpretive abilities and these came into play in a most significant manner when he translated Sacred Texts. Hence, I believe that his translation of a text will be shaded differently *and* significantly. I am stating that in our process of comparison of translations, it is interesting to note how the authoratative interpretor rendered a verse or phrase of similar or related wording as compared to how others render it. Such comparisons will be interesting, thought provoking, and valuable. Is that ok with you? Really, Eric, we are probably days away from Shoghi Effendi's woeful Catholic education being offfered as the primary influence on his translation of Aqdas verses rather than his authorized interpretive function as Guardian, so let's enjoy this pleasant interlude while we can. :-)

Warm regards,

Date: Thu, 4 Dec 1997
From: Jonah Winters
Subject: Aqdas: variance in translations

Recently some have brought up the issue of the degree to which the authorized translation differs from the literal, and possible significances thereof.

My main point in sharing the two literal translations (E-M's and mine) is exactly this, so that we can compare these with the Guardian's. However, I leap to point out that I in no way would ever consider the authorized one in any way flawed as a translation because of its pronounced variance from the actual text. As John indirectly pointed out in his history of Miller, those unfamiliar with the intricacies of context can have little chance of really understanding the text. And as can be seen from reading E-M's and my translations, they frankly make little sense! :-) Yet this is not due to incorrect translations, but because they and I were not trying to translate the meaning of the text--just its words.


(From an earlier discussion)
From: Moojan Momen
Date: Thu, 06 Apr 95
Subject: KIA 1: Recognition

These opening words of the Kitab-i-Aqdas could take us weeks or months to explore fully and meditate upon adequately. As Juan Cole has commented, it is significant that Baha'u'llah uses the word Irfan (which is translated as recognition), which has a far deeper level of meaning than other words that he could have chosen. For example the word `aqida (from the root meaning to tie or bind) meaning tenet or the word `ilm (from the root meaning to know) meaning knowledge (and usually signifiying knowledge of the Islamic sciences--i.e. legalistic knowledge) are rejected in favour of a word that signifies an inner knowledge, knowing with your whole being rather than just with the intellect.

Such a knowledge or recognition involves a realignment of the inner self so as to conform with that which it recognises. I am reminded of a passage in the writings of Henri Corbin (Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, pp. 105-112) where, quoting Proclus, he speaks of the "prayer of the heliotrope" (the heliotrope being as its name implies a flower which aligns itself to the sun as the sun goes across the sky during the course of the day). Proclus writes of the fact that each thing in creation follows/praises the leader of the divine series to which it belong "and if we could hear the sound of the air buffeted by its movement, we should be aware that it is a hymn to its king, such as it is within the power of a plant to sing." Corbin then goes on to speak of the sympathy, the "reciprocal and simultaneous attraction, between the manifest being and his celestial prince... But taken as a phenomenon of sympathy, this tropism in the plant is at once action and passion." It seems to me then that what Baha'u'llah is asking for in the act of recognition is similarly an act of aligning our inner being so that we are also, like the heliotrope, constantly pointing towards "Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation".

Baha'u'llah affirms that God has "entrusted every created thing with a sign of his knowledge [`irfan]" so that no created thing may be deprived of this recognition/`irfan, according to its capabilities and station (Gleanings, no. 124, para 2). Human beings, of course, alone in all creation have the choice of not carrying out this alignment; we can if we wish align ourselves to a different "god": money, power, Bruce Springsteen, etc. But if we choose to attain the station of recognition/`irfan, then because we are the repositories of all of the names and attributes of God, we are capable of manifesting a much higher degree of `irfan/recognition that the rest of creation.

This act of recognition, of inner re-alignment, is of course linked to the Hidden Word "Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My Love can in no wise reach thee." The plant that is not aligned to the sun cannot receive and make use of the rays of the sun. The action and passion, that are referred to by Corbin, also form a strong link between this opening verse of the Aqdas and the Short Obligatory Prayer, where the action is "to know Thee" and the passion is repesented by "to worship Thee".

We may therefore say that the second half of this first verse of the Aqdas is tautologous in that "to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world" is a necessary and inevitable corollary to a true recognition, i.e. an alignment of the inner self with "Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation". These are not therefore two seperate obligations laid upon humankind but rather rather different facets of the one injunction. Baha'u'llah, however, recognizes that a complete and unconditional alignment of the individual human being with the Sun of Revelation is an unattainable ideal for us--only the Manifestations of God themselves (and possibly Abdu'l-Baha) acheived that station where they are "but a leaf which the winds of the Will of Thy Lord hath stirred" (Tablet to Nasiru'd-Din Shah)--indeed most of us spend most of our lives resisting and rebelling against the Will of God. Baha'u'llah therefore considers it necessary to reveal the second part of the verse in order to lay down a marker for what true recognition means. This is not the only marker that he lays down but discussion of other markers can be delayed until we reach other verses of the Book. In laying down this marker, he was of course signalling his disapproval of many of those who claimed then and indeed claim today to have attained Irfan (see also his condemnation in KA 36). Many such persons assert that this means that they are somehow beyond the law.

In other writings of Baha'u'llah, `Irfan/recognition/knowledge of the Manifestation of God is said to be the equivalent of the knowing God which is stated to be the very purpose of the Creation of humanity (opening paragraph of Gleanings no. 29).

One who has not attained to this recognition/re-alignment is one of whom Baha'u'llah says that he has "gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed"; whom Baha'u'llah describes as a "leper, who shall not be remembered in the Kingdom of God" (Gleanings no. 36, last para.). I think that, as Baha'is, we must be very careful in our interpretation of such verses. If what I have indicated earlier is correct, then this first verse of the Aqdas is not saying that those who become Baha'is are saved and those who do not are damned. The mere affirmation of belief in Baha'u'llah is not the recognition/`irfan to which Baha'u'llah is exhorting us; by itself it is not sufficient to acheive the station of having "attained unto all good". As Abdu'l-Baha has said, there may be many who call themselves Baha'is but whose actions show that they have not achieved this station of recognition, i.e. not aligned themselves to the Sun of Revelation; while there are also many who have never heard of Baha'u'llah, but who have responded to the warmth of the rays of the Sun of Truth and aligned themselves to it.


Date: Sun, Apr 16, 1995
From: "Anthony A. Lee"
Subject: Re: KIA, K1
Concerning the first verse of the Aqdas, I think that the reading that the Baha'i community will give to this verse is crucial since it may provide the occasion for either a healthy community or an arrogant one.

I think that Juan has identified the major issue, and that is the question of to whom the verse is addressed. If it is addressed to the Babis, it indicates only the prerequisites of Baha'i identity. If it is addressed to the world, then it may be read to divide the sheep from the goats, as it were. I think that this latter is the usual Baha'i approach. I find that unfortunate.

In my view, this passage is addressed to neither of the above, but rather to the Baha'i community. They are the ones, after all, who had asked for this book in the first place, and I think they are the "servants" that are being addressed. In this reading, Baha'u'llah's intention is to mark the boundaries of the Baha'i community--NOT to test the people of the world. He indicates the minimum standards of Baha'i identity--which is to say that one must accept the Manifestation and seek to obey all of his laws, if one is to consider oneself a Baha'i. Naturally, this is done in degrees and it is not an all-or-nothing propositions, as some have suggested. I am in full accord with Moojan on that one.

But, though that particular reading seems fairly obvious to me (that this verse is addressed to the Baha'i community), I think I am in a distinct minority in holding to it. And, I would be willing to modify my reading in consultation with other learned Talismaniacs. WHAT I AM MORE CONCERNED WITH is the popular reading of verse number one, which uses the opening words of the Aqdas to maintain that the Baha'is are God's chosen people, excluding all others.

This is the old religious trap of defining some people as human and others as not, some people as the people of God and other as the people of Satan (as 'Abdu'l-Baha put it), some people as acceptable to God and others as not. It is the "we" and "they", the "us" and "Other" that have been sanctioned by religion throughout history. And since I believe that the Baha'i Faith has been established by Baha'u'llah precisely for the purpose of eliminating such distinctions among all humanity, I cannot accept a reading of verse one that leads of back to where we started. (And I must say, I am most unimpressed by the various apologies that Talismaniacs have given for this position. No matter how you cut it, it still boils down to: "We are acceptable, and they are not.")

Religions have many subtle ways of maintaining this exclusive position (and many not so subtle ways), which is to insist that their community is unique in the sight of God, more moral than any other, more fully true, more completely spiritual, exclusively endowed with insight, uniquely chosen for suffering, etc., etc. It is all the same claim that we are loved by God, and you are not; we are important in history, you are expendable; our suffering is redemptive and holy, yours is ordinary and meaningless; our organization is perfect, yours is flawed; our prayers are heard by God first, yours will stand in line; and so on. I shouldn't bore you with more. But, you will probably notice that such attitudes are as prevalent in the Baha'i community as they are anywhere else.

Anyway, back to the Aqdas. I would like to relieve the first verse of the Aqdas of this horrible burden and insist that it does not set the Baha'is apart from other people in goodness or holiness. Rather, it defines who the Baha'is are--and says nothing about our relative worth as compared to other communities.


Date: Mon, 17 Apr 95
From: John Walbridge
Subject: KIA:1--Recognition and exclusivism

The catch with the exclusivist reading of KIA:1 is that it is not at all obvious to me that Baha'u'llah would have seen a tremendous ethical difference between following the laws of one religion over following the laws of another (with the exception that I will explain before).

1. Baha'u'llah was thoroughly repelled by the obsession with religious minutiae characteristic of Islamic law and by the interests of the Shiite clergy, the upholders of the minutiae (a distaste that he shared with his class, but that is another story.) Prayer is important. Fasting is important. Cleanliness is important. Whether a mouse fallen into your cistern makes your ablutions invalid is not important. Neither is whether you face `Akka when saying the Tablet of Visitation.

2. An indication of this is the palpable lack of enthusiasm that Baha'u'llah showed for promulgating laws. This policy --that the implementation of the Baha'i Shari`a is a low priority--is followed to this day by the House.

3. Further, it seems quite clear that Baha'u'llah considered basic religious laws to be eternal matters, modified in practice by successive prophets but not fundamantally changed--i.e., daily prayer, fasting, marriage, etc., are obligations imposed by the greater, not the lesser, covenant.

So, in an important sense, this verse refers to accepting the Prophets, not rejecting those who have not accepted *the* Prophet, and thus does not provide a proof text for an exclusivist interpretation of the Faith.

john walbridge

Date: Sun, 18 Feb 1996
From: Jackson Armstrong-Ingram
Subject: House of Worship / Aqdas 2

The early western Baha'is were fairly well acquainted with the contents of the Aqdas. It circulated in at least two English translations and a French translation which included Questions and Answers was also available. There were also published summaries in introductory literature about the faith, and specific passages were published.

Many aspects of the Aqdas which were later less known in the west were well known to the early Baha'is (e.g. repeating the Greatest Name 95 times, funerary requirements, ablutions, etc.) and they corresponded with 'Abdu'l-Baha and the teachers he had appointed about these matters and received instructions as to how to observe them. There was no discouragement from doing so; no suggestion that these things did not 'apply.' Quite the contrary, it was considered felicitous that the western Baha'is were _more free_ to observe the provisions of the Aqdas than the eastern Baha'is as the west did not live under the shadow of persecution.

A de-emphasis of explicitly 'religious' aspects of the faith (including much in the Aqdas) came about in the 1920s and 1930s when there was an emphasis in the USA on the Faith as a theistic social reform movement. An emphasis which Shoghi Effendi resisted. Some of those who felt there should be attention paid to a broader range of matters suported that contention by using the Aqdas. In July 1935, the NSA published a statement in Baha'i News to counter this:

...while the Guardian has translated certain passages from Kitab-i-Aqdas (published in Star of the West some ten years ago), that work of Baha'ullah, with its ordinances concerning worship and other Baha'i institutions, can not be used by any believer at present as an authority, since the complete text awaits translation and publication, and moreover is to be promulgated by the Universal House of Justice when that body comes into existence. (BN 93 p3-4)
Shoghi Effendi immediately wrote to the NSA through his secretary and this letter was published in the October Baha'i News: "In correction of the statement published by the National Spiritual Assembly...the following statement from the Guardian is now brought to the attention of the American friends:"
In view of the importance of such a statement he feels it his duty to explain that the Laws revealed by Baha'ullah in the Aqdas are, whenever practicable and not in direct conflict with the Civil Laws of the land, absolutely binding on every believer or Baha'i institution whether in the East or in the West. Certain Laws, such as fasting, obligatory prayers, the consent of parents before marriage, avoidance of alcoholic drinks, monogamy, should be regarded by all believers as universally and vitally applicable at the present time. Others have been formulated in anticipation of a state of society destined to emerge from the chaotic conditions that prevail today... What has not been formulated in the Aqdas, in addition to matters of detail and of secondary importance arising out of the application of the Laws already formulated by Baha'u'llah will have to be enacted by the Universal House of Justice. This body can supplement but never invalidate or modify in the least degree what has already been formulated by Baha'u'llah. Nor has the Guardian any right whatsoever to lessen the binding effect much less to abrogate the provisions of so fundamental and sacred a Book. (BN 95 p1-2)
(Note: This Guardian's letter is quoted in part in the Introduction to the Aqdas on page 6. This is a good example of how arguments should not be made from minor details of the printed versions of texts. The version of this letter in the Introduction does not indicate that 17 words have been dropped from the beginning of the first sentance; there are discrepancies in capitalisation, etc., between it and the Baha'i News version; there is a misplaced ellipsis.)

There are very few things in the Aqdas the observance of which could be considered to conflict with US law; certainly nothing related to Baha'i worship is among them. Equally, the case of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar can hardly be considered as something that applies to a future state of society when 'Abdu'l-Baha had been vigourously advocating it since the turn of the century.

We might note that the NSA had a file copy of a complete translation of the Aqdas, apart from those excerpts translated by Shoghi Effendi, at the time they made their statement. A few decades later they were denying having even that -- perhaps simply having forgotten that it existed.

Thus, despite the efforts of Shoghi Effendi and others, it came about that there were many aspects of more explicitly religious Baha'i practice that eastern Baha'is were aware of but that the western communities had come to forget. This was not because of some spiritual gulf in understanding between east and west, but because of different selective emphases related to the host cultures in which the Baha'i communities developed.

The task before us now is to bring all strands of Baha'i life/practice/observance to an equally developed point worldwide. In this task _all_ communities have areas in which they are advanced and areas in which they are backward. But no community can hope to successfully develop and function in the long term without consciously addressing its deficiencies. The alternative is to further exaggerate the curent lop-sided developments and further distinguish regional Baha'i communities from each other. (A course that seems much more likely to lead to schism than the actions of any individual.) This does not mean that the working out of Baha'i practice should not be in the context of particular cultures, but that it should be done on the basis of bringing all the Baha'i teachings to bear in that cultural context rather than a subset selected on the basis of cultural biases.

Birds don't fly with one wing; horses don't win races with three legs. All the supports, all the engines for growth, must be in place for progress. If all the driving forces are concentrated at one point, an object simply goes in circles.

The Aqdas is not a mere code of laws. We should not assume that every law, ordinance, and exhortation in the Aqdas is a 'law' at all in the sense that it is a prescription or prohibition the nonobservance of which is negatively sanctioned. There are examples of _extremely_ directive statements in the Aqdas which are _not_ obligatory.

We should also not leap to the assumption that the contents of the Aqdas are directed solely to Baha'is. The Aqdas was revealed to address immediate concerns of the eastern Baha'i community, to provide a foundation for the development of a world Baha'i community, and to summon the world in toto to certain standards.

Baha'is belong to the Faith of Baha'u'llah; the teachings of Baha'u'llah do not belong to the Baha'is. All people can benefit from those teachings from whatever point they are at, even if we believe that a fuller understanding of them requires belonging to the faith. And most particularly, all can receive spiritual nourishment from the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar. Indeed, 'Abdu'l-Baha said that this was the most powerful tool through which to bring them to accepting the faith itself.

Certainly, I used Baha'i prayers before I enrolled as a Baha'i; I used the obligatory prayers; I observed the fast; and I have no doubt that doing this provided the spiritual nourishment that brought me to the point of enrolling.

Even the sharply boundaried distinction between Baha'i and non-Baha'i is probably related to a particular period in the development of the Faith when this was needed to foster an independent collective identity. (And, of course, the administrative meaning of 'Baha'i' has changed a number of times this century.) But as we saw in Loni's recent posts about teaching and enrollment in Europe, this pre and post declaration card type of distinction is ceasing to be so important. Of course, there will always have to be an administrative mechanism related to eligibility to vote in elections; but in other contexts it is the attraction of the heart to Baha'u'llah that is the important factor.

The writings tell us that the key to attracting hearts, to teaching, is the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar; that the key to sound administrative institutions is the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar; that the key to social progress in the world at large is the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar. Why do we not use what the writings tell us will work? Why does it always cause such consternation to suggest we do? How can it be anti-administration to advocate the development of the institution that the writings say is necessary to empower the administration to fulfil its potential?


Kitab-i-Aqdas Multilinear Translation table of contents
Front page of translation | Glossary of select Arabic terms
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