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The Universality of the Laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas

by Bijan Samali

published in The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: Studies from the First National Conference on the Holy Book, vol. 1
Roseberry: Association for Baha'i Studies Australia, 1996

We are living in a very special era, the closing years of this century referred to by `Abdu'l-Bahá as the Century of Light. We must be very proud and thankful to be alive and witness this day. The day in which God's holy mountain is shaping up according to the Divine Plan. The day that is given a new life with the coming of the Supreme Manifestation of God for this time and age, a Manifestation that humanity will not see its like for another 500,000 years.

This is the time to rejoice as we have been blessed to recognise His station. Only one out of every 1000 living souls on this planet has been blessed with that recognition so far. We are not only blessed with the recognition of God's Supreme Manifestation, but have also witnessed the full and authorised translation of His Most Holy Book, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas — the "Mother Book", the "Unerring Balance", the "Straight Path", the "Source of true felicity", the "Quickener of mankind", the "Charter of World Civilisation", the "Wondrous Book". Over the last 150 years, many souls declared their belief in the Blessed Beauty, however, not all could witness the grandeur and bounties of this day and age. We are now honoured, blessed and privileged to have access to the entire text of the Most Holy Book of His Dispensation. Bahá'u'lláh in a Tablet addressed to Siyyid-i-Mihdíy-i-Dahají clearly explains the significance of this mighty book:

"In such a manner hath the Kitáb-i-Aqdas been revealed that it attracteth and embraceth all the divinely appointed Dispensations. Blessed those who peruse it! Blessed those who apprehend it! Blessed those who meditate upon it! Blessed those who ponder its meaning! So vast is its range that it hath encompassed all men ere their recognition of it. Erelong will its sovereign power, its pervasive influence and the greatness of its might be manifested on earth." [1]

The Universality of the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is consistent with the revelation itself. One could say that the divine guidance given to mankind has been, and will always be universal. However, the definition of this universality is not the same. Every revelation of the past did aim at embracing, guiding and uniting their respective societies, but the extent of such unification varied widely throughout history. A few generations ago the majority of people lived and died within a few kilometres of their birth place. Today, however, the entire planet is virtually one home land.

The Dispensation of Moses facilitated the establishment of tribal societies, while the civilisations of Christianity and Islam saw the development of cities and nations respectively. Now for the first time in the history of mankind it is possible to unite the entire human race through one divinely ordained revelation. This special feature which is due to technological advancement of our time, demands that all aspects of that divinely ordained revelation be also universal or more specifically global in the present context of universality. The requirement and necessity of being global has been clearly demonstrated in every aspect of the Bahá'í Faith, in all Bahá'í Writings, and of course in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas.


The laws of God, revealed through His Manifestations, are always universal and all-encompassing. Therefore, one can say that the laws of all previous Dispensations are also universal and this feature is not unique to the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. However, the universality of the laws is defined in terms of the scope and duration of each Dispensation. With the coming of a new Manifestation of God, and with revelation of new laws and ordinances by Him, the laws of previous Dispensations will no longer remain universal. The Universality of the Laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas can be viewed in different contexts and from various points of view.

1. Universality of the Laws due to their relation to, and focus on the individual

The laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas focus on the individual. In the Bahá'í Faith, an individual potentially represents the image of God. Bahá'u'lláh in the Hidden Words clearly states this: "O SON OF MAN! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty" [2] and further, "O SON OF BEING! Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee. . . ." [3]. It is therefore not surprising that the laws revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas focus on the individual. All individuals on this planet, regardless of their cultural and national backgrounds, and irrespective of where they live, have the same spiritual status and rights. It is therefore only natural that the laws should focus on, and address the physical, social and spiritual needs of all individuals comprising the human family. This feature of the laws has been clearly stated by the Universal House of Justice in the 'Introduction' to of the Most Holy Book:

"As to the laws themselves, a careful scrutiny discloses that they govern three areas: The individual's relationship to God, physical and spiritual matters which benefit the individual directly, and relations among individuals and between the individual and society".

2. Universality of the Laws in terms of practicability and applicability to the entire humanity.

In revealing Divine Laws with universal implications, Bahá'u'lláh has recognised the special circumstances and geographical conditions. There are many examples in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas which confirm this recognition by Bahá'u'lláh. One such example is one of many laws pertaining to refinement, namely, bathing at least once a week. In the Most Holy Book Bahá'u'lláh writes:

"It hath been enjoined upon you to pare your nails, to bathe yourselves each week in water that covereth your bodies, and to clean yourselves with whatsoever ye have formerly employed. Take heed lest through negligence ye fail to observe that which hath been prescribed unto you by Him Who is the Incomparable, the Gracious. Immerse yourselves in clean water, it is not permissible to bathe yourselves in water that hath already been used. . . We desire to behold you as manifestations of paradise on earth, that there may be diffused from you such fragrance as shall rejoice the hearts of the favoured of God. If the bather, instead of entering the water, wash himself by pouring it upon his body, it shall be better for him and shall absolve him of the need for bodily immersion. The lord, verily, hath willed, as a bounty from His presence, to make life easier for you that ye may be of those who are truly thankful". [4]

This law which could seem trivial in the western countries, ensures a minimum level of cleanliness and refinement for every one. It may be true that in western countries people bathe more frequently; however, it should be emphasised that the environmental, economical and geographical conditions in many parts of the world make it impossible for many people to observe a more stringent commandment. In many countries of the world water is scarce and in some countries oil is perhaps more plentiful than water. In polar regions water is only accessible during summer time and in other seasons can be accessed by melting ice. In some tribal communities in polar regions, it is a common practice to apply a special ointment over the skin to protect it from the extreme cold. One does not believe the people in such communities are keen to wash the ointment off too frequently.

Globally, the average time interval between consecutive baths is likely to exceed one week at present and hence Bahá'u'lláh's commandment is bound to improve the situation significantly. Many interesting stories are told about this, reflecting various circumstances and practices. Although it is a bit exaggerated, in some parts of the world it is believed that a person during his life time must have at least three baths, firstly when the person is born, secondly when the person gets married and thirdly when the person dies. All other baths are considered optional and one could also argue that the said practice only requires two baths during one's earthly life. The concept behind this law of Bahá'u'lláh is so profound. He desires to "behold" us "as the manifestations of paradise on earth" and upholds a hygienic practice by forbidding bathing in used water. In some other religious practices bathing in used water has been and still is a norm regardless of its purity, colour or smell. In such practices, the only governing criterion determining its suitability has been the volume of water. Undoubtedly such practices have stemmed from lack of water in sufficient quantities or its cost. The application of Bahá'í law in the same regions, although still difficult and possibly costly at present, could not be relaxed any further without compromising the principle of cleanliness and refinement. It is anticipated however that with the application of current technologies and the advent of new ones, coupled with general public awareness on conserving natural resources, the problem will no longer be as severe as it is today. Furthermore, to simplify the law even further, Bahá'u'lláh allows washing one's body by pouring water upon it and clearly mentions that this has been done in the spirit of making life easier for us. There is no doubt that this simplification will please many of us, specially those who are not fond of bath tubs, myself included.

This divine law is intended for cleanliness and refinement and for the reasons mentioned, its universal applicability could not be guaranteed if it were revealed in a more stringent fashion. There is a story about one of the believers who was not convinced about this law and could not imagine how people could live for a week without a shower. To learn the wisdom of the law, God sends him to a very remote area as a travelling teacher. The village in which he spends most of his time happens to be located near the top of a mountain with no shower facilities. As far as the villagers were concerned, they had access to running water but it happened to be the water of a river in a valley, a kilometre down the hill. The travelling teacher upon arrival wishes to take a bath as he was badly perspiring due to heat and humidity. The location of nearest shower facility is pointed out to him and he manages to get to the river and have a refreshing swim but the bad news was to get back to the village. He manages that by climbing a kilometre, arriving out of breath and with a wet shirt caused by perspiration. Certainly he realised the wisdom of the law there and then and possibly did not try to take another bath the next day.

The other example is the use of clock in polar regions in relation to fasting and offering obligatory prayers. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas Bahá'u'lláh states:

"In regions where the days and nights grow long, let times of prayer be gauged by clocks and other instruments that mark the passage of the hours. He, verily, is the Expounder, the Wise." [5]

As you know the specified times for offering the short and medium obligatory prayers are in relation to sunrise, sunset and noon. In polar regions obviously this is not possible and Bahá'u'lláh has allowed the use of clocks to ensure universal applicability of the Divine Laws. Regarding the fasting, the following is revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas:

"Abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sundown, and beware lest desire deprive you of this grace that is appointed in the Book." [6]

As the Universal House of Justice explains, the provision of relying on clocks applies also to fasting (The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, note No. 17, p. 172). Without the permission to use clocks in some regions observing the Fast may prove to be difficult. (see footnote 1)

In addition to recognising the special circumstances and geographical conditions, Bahá'u'lláh has ensured the universal applicability of the laws by abrogating some of the laws of previous Dispensations. The majority of the laws of previous Dispensations addressed the needs of the peoples of their era and were meant for particular societies with specific features and needs. Such specific laws may no longer be relevant to the present worldwide community and unless universally practicable, they had to be abrogated by Bahá'u'lláh in His Most Holy Book. There are many examples of such laws and only a few are included for illustrative purposes. Many of the religious leaders of previous Dispensations have recognised the need for the renewal of some of the laws and took the liberty of changing them based on their own understanding of present needs, and in the process have caused disunity and conflict among the believers, and in many cases have created separate sects within their faiths. In other cases, the laws have been altered by offering a different interpretation or using different terminologies. For example, in Islám the interest charged on borrowed money is unlawful. However, it is quite clear that in the current economic practices and the obvious need for banking, this law cannot be practised. The economic health of many Islámic countries, like other nations, is dependent on modern economic processes and practices, and on interaction with other economies. Many of them have now recognised the impracticality of this law. Many have abandoned it without offering any explanation and some have replaced the term "interest" by "fee" or "service charge".

With foreign competition, Islámic banks will not be able to attract any investors and will face bankruptcy if they do not offer their customers handsome financial incentives. In a few Islámic countries in the Middle East, the banks offer two different accounts. One is an interest bearing account, the same as bank accounts in other countries. The other one is a non interest bearing account and the government encourages people to invest in those accounts by offering them prizes (in cash or goods). In other instances, devoted Muslims invest in an interest bearing account but either return the interest to the bank or give it to charity. In this Dispensation, Bahá'u'lláh in recognition of the need to change this law made the interest charge on borrowed money lawful. He did this in the Tablet of Ishráqát (Splendours) which is considered as one of the supplements to the Kitáb-i- Aqdas. At first Bahá'u'lláh emphasises the need for interest and declared it lawful:

"As to thy question concerning interest and profit on gold and silver: Some years ago the following passage was revealed from the heaven of the all Merciful . . . He-Exalted be His Word-saith: Many people stand in need of this. Because if there were no prospect for gaining interest, the affairs of men would suffer collapse or dislocation. One can seldom find a person who would manifest such consideration towards his fellow-man, his countryman or towards his own brother and would show such tender solicitude for him as to be well-disposed to grant him a loan on benevolent terms. Therefore as a token of favour towards men We have prescribed that interest on money should be treated like other business transactions that are current amongst men. Thus, now that this lucid commandment hath descended from the heaven of the Will of God, it is lawful and proper to charge interest on money, that the people of the world may, in a spirit of amity and fellowship and with joy and gladness, devotedly engage themselves in magnifying the Name of Him Who is the Well-Beloved of all mankind. Verily He ordaineth according to His Own choosing. He hath now made interest on money lawful, even as He made it unlawful in the past. Within His grasp He holdeth the kingdom of authority. He doeth and ordaineth. He is in truth the Ordainer, the All-Knowing." [7]

Then Bahá'u'lláh describes how so many ecclesiastics have been feeding on interest by giving it a lawful outward look:

"Many ecclesiastics in Persia have, through innumerable designs and devices, been feeding on illicit gains obtained by usury. They have contrived ways to give its outward form a fair semblance of lawfulness. They make a plaything of the laws and ordinances of God, but they understand not." [7]

Bahá'u'lláh, however, warns that despite its lawfulness, moderation and fairness must be exercised when charging interest.

"However, this is a matter that should be practised with moderation and fairness. Our Pen of Glory hath, as a token of wisdom and for the convenience of the people, desisted from laying down its limits. Nevertheless We exhort the loved ones of God to observe justice and fairness, and to do that which would prompt the friends of God to evince tender mercy and compassion towards each other. He is in truth the Counsellor, the Compassionate, the All-Bountiful. God grant that all men may be graciously aided to observe that which the Tongue of the One true God hath uttered. And if they put into practice what We have set forth, God-Exalted be His glory-will assuredly double their portion through the heaven of His bounty. Verily he is the Generous, the Forgiving, the Compassionate. Praise be unto God, the Most Exalted, the Most Great.

Nevertheless the conduct of these affairs hath been entrusted to the men of the House of Justice that they may enforce them according to the exigencies of the time and the dictates of wisdom.

Once again We exhort all believers to observe justice and fairness and to show forth love and contentment. They are indeed the people of Bahá, the companions of the Crimson Ark. Upon them be the peace of God, the Lord of all Names, the Creator of the Heavens". [7]

Another example is the abrogation of prohibition of wearing hair and fur while offering obligatory prayers. The Islámic law disallows wearing of anything which is made of animal skin, bone, hair, fur and the like. As one can imagine, the observance of this law by the dwellers of (say) polar regions who normally keep warm by wearing fur, is very difficult if not impossible. As Bahá'u'lláh explains in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, this law is not explicit in the Qur'án and has been the result of Islámic clergies' misunderstanding:

"Hair doth not invalidate your prayer, nor aught from which the spirit hath departed, such as bones and the like. Ye are free to wear the fur of the sable as ye would that of the beaver, the squirrel, and other animals; the prohibition of its use hath stemmed, not from the Qur'án, but from the misconceptions of the divines. He, verily, is the All Glorious, the All-Knowing." [8]

The other example is the abrogation of Polygamy by Bahá'u'lláh in Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Although the text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas seemingly allows bigamy, from the authorised interpretations offered by `Abdu'l-Bahá it is clear that only monogamy is allowed in the Bahá'í Faith. This is what was revealed from the Pen of the Most High in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas about the subject at hand:

"God hath prescribed matrimony unto you. Beware that ye take not unto yourselves more wives than two. Whoso contenteth himself with a single partner from among the maidservants of God, both he and she shall live in tranquillity. And he who would take into his service a maid may do so with propriety. Such is the ordinance which, in truth and justice, hath been recorded by the Pen of revelation. Enter into wedlock, O people, that ye may bring forth one who will make mention of Me amid My servants. This is my bidding unto you; hold fast to it as an assistance to yourselves". [9] (see footnote 2)

It should be emphasised that in the above passage Bahá'u'lláh not only abrogated polygamy, he also abrogates another Islámic law. In Islám it is unlawful for a man to have a maid unless she is married to him.

In our present society, polygamy is not practicable. The conditions, practices and cultural traditions which justified polygamy are no longer relevant. In some present cultures and in almost all previous ones, the social status of women was totally dependent on men. It was not, for example, a norm for women to remain single, and in many instances their very lives depended on the husband's to the extent that if the husband died the wife had to die as well. This extreme was of course not practiced by many cultures; however, in general, the social security, welfare, protection and status of women were all in the hands of the husband. One could confidently say that a women without a husband was deprived of many rights and privileges. It was not surprising then that in tribal societies and perhaps others in which a large number of widows and unmarried women existed, it was incumbent upon the men of that society, whether married at the time or not, to provide protection, security and status to those women by marrying and having them as one of their wives. Recognising those special circumstances it was quite logical to allow polygamy in the past. But in this time and age the need for it is no longer there and it had to be abrogated by the Manifestation of God for our age.

As the last example, Bahá'u'lláh, in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, made singing and listening to music lawful:

"We have made it lawful for you to listen to music and singing. Take heed, however, lest listening thereto should cause you to overstep the bounds of propriety and dignity. Let your joy be the joy born of My Most Great Name, a Name that bringeth rapture to the heart, and filleth with ecstasy the minds of all who have drawn nigh unto God. We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high; make it not, therefore, as wings to self and passion. Truly, We are loath to see you numbered with the foolish". [11]

In relation to the institution of Mashriqu'l-Adhkár, Bahá'u'lláh again makes reference to the importance of melodious tones in the following passage of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas:

"They who recite the verses of the All-Merciful in the most melodious of tones will perceive in them that with which the sovereignty of earth and heaven can never be compared". [12]

It is interesting to note that among the translated Writings of Bahá'u'lláh on music, all but one are revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas which emphasises the importance of music in the Bahá'í Faith.

Music however, has been disapproved by some nations as `Abdu'l-Bahá explains:

"This wonderful age has rent asunder the veils of superstition and has condemned the prejudice of the people of the East.

Among some of the nations of the Orient, music and harmony was not approved of, but the Manifested Light, Bahá'u'lláh, in this glorious period has revealed in Holy Tablets that singing and music are the spiritual food of the hearts and souls. In this Dispensation, music is one of the arts that is highly approved and is considered to be the cause of the exaltation of sad and desponding hearts". [13]

Disapproval of music by some nations has stemmed from many religious and cultural beliefs. Some considered music as the source of all evil, an instrument that excites the low and physical side of human beings, and as something anti-spiritual. Again one can see that the laws of God revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas could not be universal if music and harmony were considered unlawful. In most cultures and in almost every country today, music is an inseparable and integral part of daily life. In many cultures, music is the foundation and inseparable part of many traditional customs and cultural and religious ceremonies.

3. Social Laws (inherently Universal)

Many of the social laws revealed by Bahá'u'lláh are universal by their very nature as they facilitate the realisation of the oneness of human race. These laws actually promote those concepts which will ensure the universality of the Faith, and at the same time try to eliminate or change those practices which were considered as an obstacle to achieving such universality. One such noble social law is the establishment of an auxiliary language which is clearly specified by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and is considered as a sign of the spiritual maturity of humankind.

"O members of parliaments throughout the world! Select ye a single language for the use of all on earth, and adopt ye likewise a common script. God, verily, maketh plain for you that which shall profit you and enable you to be independent of others. He, of a truth, is the most Bountiful, the All-Knowing, the All-Informed. This will be the cause of unity, could ye but comprehend it, and the greatest instrument for promoting harmony and civilization, would that ye might understand! We have appointed two signs for the coming of age of the human race: the first, which is the most firm foundation, We have set down in other of Our Tablets, while the second hath been revealed in this wondrous Book". [14]

Most of us specially those who have travelled extensively and have experienced language barriers will testify, without any hesitation, to the absolute necessity of this principle as a prelude to the oneness of humankind. In our history, the roots of many conflicts and bloodshed had been simply the misunderstandings stemming from language barriers. When people of the world can freely communicate through a universal language, they start to appreciate each other's cultural values and diversities, way of life, habits and customs, with the realisation that as the inhabitants of the same planet we have much to offer and to share. It is this realisation that will demonstrate the universal character of the human family and will pave the way for global unification.

The second example under the inherently universal social laws is Universal Education. The text of the Kitáb-i- Aqdas is very explicit about this:

"Unto every father hath been enjoined the instruction of his son and daughter in the art of reading and writing and in all that hath been laid down in the Holy Tablet. He that putteth away that which is commanded unto him, the Trustees are then to take from him that which is required for their instruction if he be wealthy and, if not, the matter devolveth upon the House of Justice. Verily have We made it a shelter for the poor and needy. He that bringeth up his son or the son of another, it is as though he hath brought up a son of Mine; upon him rest My glory, My loving-kindness, My mercy, that have compassed the world." [15]

Through this law, Bahá'u'lláh upholds the universality of education by ensuring that every child living on this planet will receive proper education, regardless of parents' financial means. Bahá'u'lláh gives the duty of educating the children to parents in the first instance, and then to the Houses of Justice if the parents do not have the means. Bahá'u'lláh's emphasis on the importance of educating one's child is quite clear from His statement that if one educates a child, it is as if he has educated a son of His.

The other aspect of universal education in the Bahá'í Faith is linked to the concept of the oneness of mankind, valuing cultural diversities, equality of races and sexes, independent investigation of the truth, and the oneness of the foundation of all religions. In this context, the Bahá'í Education process ensures that not only people are educated universally, but they are also universally educated. In other words, the Bahá'í Education does not make the assumption that only a particular group, religion, race, nationality or class is worthy of learning and knowing about. The Faith also acknowledges that there are many ways of acquiring knowledge, divine virtues and spiritual truth, and no particular group can claim that they have the monopoly on truth.

4. Universality of Laws by extending it to both men and women and ensuring their equality

Bahá'u'lláh is the only Manifestation of God that has clearly declared the equality of men and women and ensured the universality of His laws by making them applicable to both sexes. In all previous Dispensations, the women are either ignored (ie, are not mentioned) or are mentioned in an inferior context. Bahá'u'lláh, however, has acknowledged the unquestionable equality of both sexes in some of His Tablets:

"Exalted, immensely exalted is He Who hath removed differences and established harmony. Glorified, infinitely glorified is He who hath caused discord to cease, and decreed solidarity and unity. Praised be God, the Pen of the Most High hath lifted distinctions from between His servants and handmaidens, and, through His consummate favours and all encompassing mercy, hath conferred upon all a station and rank of the same plane. He hath broken the back of vain imaginings with the sword of utterance and hath obliterated the perils of idle fancies through the pervasive power of His might". [16]

"In this Day the Hand of divine grace hath removed all distinctions. The servants of God and His handmaidens are regarded on the same plane. Blessed is the servant who hath attained unto that which God hath decreed, and likewise the leaf moving in accordance with the breezes of His will. This favour is great and this station lofty. His bounties and bestowals are ever present and manifest. Who is able to offer befitting gratitude for His successive bestowals and continuous favours?" [17]

"By My Life! The names of handmaidens who are devoted to God are written and set down by the Pen of the Most High in the Crimson Book. They excel over men in the sight of God . . ." [18]

In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, on the surface there appears to be inequality in the following areas:

* Laws of marriage
* Laws of divorce
* Inheritance laws
* Pilgrimage
* Exemption from Fasting and offering Obligatory Prayers under some circumstances
* Membership of the Universal House of Justice

However, many of these apparent inequalities can be easily explained and justified. Furthermore, unless clearly specified all laws are applicable to both men and women although they may seem to refer to only men. In this context the following passage by the Universal House of Justice in the Introduction to the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is noteworthy:

"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 role 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." [19]

One must realise that the principles of the Faith and the laws revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are interrelated and should not be considered in isolation. In other words, they form a complete package. If it seems that in one area men are favoured, it is in response to a particular duty or role that is envisaged for men. The vice versa is also true. For example, in the Bahá'í Faith, men have the role of primary providers and women that of primary educators. It is of course quite possible that due to special circumstances the roles are interchanged. However, the law of God is always in relation to the norm rather than exception. Establishing that, the financial responsibility of the household is given to the husband. Even during the year of patience preceding a divorce, it is the husband who is responsible to provide for his wife and not the other way around. One could argue that this practice is against "equality" and the husband is the victim. Obviously this is not the case. In recognition of this responsibility, Bahá'u'lláh has given a larger proportion to father than mother and a larger proportion to brother than sister in relation to the laws of inheritance, as the father has the financial responsibility for the mother and the brother for his own family.

In another context, it must be remembered that women are exempt from observing certain laws but not prevented. The text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is quite explicit:

"The Lord hath ordained that those of you who are able shall make pilgrimage to the sacred House, and from this He hath exempted women as a mercy on His part. He, of a truth, is the All-Bountiful, the Most Generous." [20]

"The traveller, the ailing, those who are with child or giving suck, are not bound by the Fast; they have been exempted by God as a token of His grace. He, verily, is the Almighty, the Most Generous." [21]

"God hath exempted women who are in their courses from obligatory prayer and fasting". [22]

Exemption is different from prohibition. In relation to exemptions the matter is clarified by the Universal House of Justice:

"The Universal House of Justice has clarified that the provisions in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas granting exemptions from certain duties and responsibilities are, as the word indicates, exemptions and not prohibitions. Any believer is therefore, free to avail himself or herself of an applicable exemption if he or she so wishes. However, the House of Justice counsels that, in deciding whether to do so or not, the believer should use wisdom and realise that Bahá'u'lláh has granted these exemptions for good reason." [23]

"It must be emphasised that these exemptions are granted in recognition of certain circumstances and in no wise reflect the capability nor station of women. Furthermore, the exemption granted to women in relation to obligatory prayer and fasting during their courses, unlike some earlier beliefs in previous religious Dispensations, is not due to their ritual uncleanness during their courses. The concept of ritual uncleanness has been abolished by Bahá'u'lláh. He states that through His Revelation "all created things were immersed in the sea of purification" [24].

In concluding this section it is worth noting that when we talk about "equality", we mean the equality of rights, status, opportunities and the like and not the equality of functions and responsibilities. Men and women are biologically different and hence are meant to complement each other rather than duplicate.

5. Universality of the Laws by legislating the skeleton, leaving out details, hence making laws flexible, more general and adaptable to cultural diversities / Universality of laws in relation to the constitution of the Universal House of Justice and its designated functions

The Kitáb-i-Aqdas is not a voluminous book, and as explained by the Universal House of Justice, "in general, the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are stated succinctly". The brevity of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is partly due to the potency of its verses, and partly due to the intentional gaps left in the details of laws in conjunction with the details of the constitution of the Universal House of Justice, so that only the basic framework and foundation of the laws are given; hence, ensuring its universal applicability not only to different peoples, cultures and places, but also throughout the time until the advent of the next Manifestation of God.

The laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas will remain binding for at least a thousand years. None of its laws can be altered or modified. Because of this, it has been necessary to exclude details of those laws which require frequent revision and modification due to the changing requirements of time and place. This will ensure the universal applicability of its laws for its intended duration, namely a minimum of 1000 years. Legislation on supplementary and secondary laws and providing details for those laws whose framework is envisaged in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is left to the Universal House of Justice, the infallible body of our Faith.

In this regard the content of a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly in 1935 is noteworthy:

"Certain . . . laws 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 Bahá'u'lláh, 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 Bahá'u'lláh. 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". [25]

`Abdu'l-Bahá also explains the relationship between the Laws of Aqdas and the ones legislated by the Universal House of Justice:

"Those matters of major importance which constitute the foundation of the Laws of God are explicitly recorded in the Text, but subsidiary laws are left to the House of Justice. The wisdom of this is that the times never remain the same, for change is a necessary quality and an essential attribute of this world, and of time and place. Therefore the House of Justice will take action accordingly . . . Briefly, this is the wisdom of referring the laws of society to the House of Justice." [26]

The analogy between the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas which remain universally applicable for at least a thousand years, and those legislated by the Universal House of Justice, is like the frame of a house to its interior furnishings. The laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas symbolise the building frame around which the entire house is built. The frame remains intact and unchanged even though the house may undergo minor changes or renovations. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas Bahá'u'lláh only gave us the frame and did not wish to specify the colour, style and fashion of interior furnishings so that they could be specified by the Universal House of Justice and if required be modified again to suit the requirements of the building users and the latest fashions. Without these provisions it would have been impossible to guarantee the universal applicability of the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas for its intended duration.

The nature of the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and its relationship to the constitution and establishment of the Universal House of Justice, that infallible body, is a unique phenomenon in religious history and reflects the special characteristics of the time in which we live. Prior to 1844, if one studied the advancement made by humanity throughout history, a linear and steady increase with time is observed. In other words, if humanity made progress by a given quantum over say 500 years, its progress over 1000 years has been more or less twice that amount. This linear progression versus time made it possible for God to speak to humanity through His chosen Manifestation every 1000 years or so, and in the process, update the religion by introducing new laws and ordinances and abrogating some of the laws of the previous Dispensation if necessary.

With the advent of the Báb, the technological advancement of humanity, and in turn humanity's need for divine laws, has grown and will continue to grow exponentially. One can say that the quantum of progress which took humanity 1000 years to achieve previously could now be achieved in 50 years or less. The said exponential growth presents two possible scenarios, one being the advent of a new Manifestation of God every 50 to 100 years to update the laws according to the needs of the society. This obviously is not a viable option as a new religion requires a much longer time to establish itself and provide the social infrastructure under which humanity's needs could be addressed. The second alternative is to maintain the usual interval between consecutive Manifestations, namely a 1000 years or so, but meanwhile devise a mechanism by which those secondary laws and the details which require frequent upgrading could be legislated or modified without the need for the advent of a new Manifestation. In addition, such legislation is to be divinely guided and protected, free of error and sensitive to the needs of the time. Hence, the creation of an infallible body to do just that becomes apparent. The advent of the unique institution of the Universal House of Justice made it possible to ensure the generality and universality of the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas for at least 1000 years and at the same time ensure their conformity to the needs and requirements of the time by allowing the Universal House of Justice to legislate on secondary matters.

The other aspect of providing only the basic principles and leaving out details in relation to laws, has been, the author believes, the desire on part of Bahá'u'lláh to foster innovation, self responsibility and discipline and cultural diversity, by avoiding laws which are too prescriptive. By not insisting on minor details Bahá'u'lláh has made it possible to observe the law without loosing one's cultural values, customs and traditions. This feature of the laws has indeed made them universally applicable and embraceable. An example of such a law is the requirement to observe the 19 Day Feast. Bahá'u'lláh's description of the Feast in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is:

"Verily, it is enjoined upon you to offer a feast, once in every month, although only water be served; for God hath purposed to bind hearts together, albeit through both earthly and heavenly means". [27]

From this mighty passage it is clear that Bahá'u'lláh has emphasised the social aspect of the Feast without specifying any particular format. The Feast later became an institution when `Abdu'l-Bahá and the Guardian respectively added the spiritual and administrative parts to it. Today, every 19 days and on the same day, millions of Bahá'ís all over the world, in big cities, in small and remote villages, in the west, in the east, in the north and in the south observe the 19 day Feast under the same principles as a divinely ordained institution in their own ways while maintaining their cultural values and diversity. This is one of the beauties of our Faith which allows unity in diversity. This is a testimony to the inherently universal character of the laws revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas.

6. Ensuring the universality of the laws through the elimination of all prejudices

Universal aspect of our Faith could not be realised if prejudices of all kinds including those based on religious beliefs, nationality, race, creed, sex, social status and the like had not been eliminated. As an example, Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas abolished the ritual uncleanness of certain objects and peoples as understood and practised in some tribal societies and in the religious communities of certain earlier Dispensations:

God hath, likewise, as a bounty from His presence, abolished the concept of "uncleanness", whereby divers things and peoples have been held to be impure. He, of a certainty, is the Ever- Forgiving, the Most Generous. Verily, all created things were immersed in the sea of purification when, on that first day of Ridván, We shed upon the whole of creation the splendours of Our most excellent Names and Our most exalted Attributes. This, verily, is a token of My loving providence, which hath encompassed all the worlds. Consort ye then with the followers of all religions, and proclaim ye the Cause of your Lord, the Most Compassionate; this is the very crown of deeds, if ye be of them who understand." [28]

This is a fundamental aspect of our Faith and is clearly a prerequisite to teaching the Cause of God. How can we share this wonderful message with all peoples if they were considered unclean? Many of you know stories about how so many individuals or groups have been subjected to humiliation, injustice, persecution and unfounded prejudices because of this "uncleanness". The story of some people visiting their relatives outside their faith and the humiliation they experienced as their cups and plates in which they had their tea and refreshments were specially washed afterwards to remove the imparted uncleanness is familiar to many of us. The abolishment of this practice is the foundation for one of the foremost tenets of the Bahá'í Faith, namely, the elimination of prejudices of all kinds. "Consort with all religions with amity and concord, that they may inhale from you the sweet fragrance of God . . ." says Bahá'u'lláh [29].

Concluding Remarks

The author has attempted to address the universal nature of the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. The author must confess however that the universal nature of the Faith itself and the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is too profound to be adequately dealt with in a few pages. However, it is hoped that this humble effort will serve as a starting point. The Words of God is inexhaustible and so is one's understanding and interpretation of the universality of the laws of the Most Holy Book of His Supreme Manifestation. It is now up to other researchers, both at present and in the future to dive deeper in the endless ocean of His Life Giving Words. The author humbly passes on the torch.


[1] Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Tablet to Siyyid-i-Mihdíy-i-Dahají, p. 200.
[2] Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic, No. 3.
[3] Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh, from the Arabic, No. 11.
[4] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 106, pp. 57-58.
[5] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 10, p. 23.
[6] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 17, p. 25.
[7] Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Tablets of Ishráqát (Splendours), pp. 132-134.
[8] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 9, p. 22.
[9] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 63, p. 41.
[10] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, note 89, pp. 205-206.
[11] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 51, p. 38.
[12] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 116, p. 61.
[13] Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, No. 1412, p. 74.
[14] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 189, p. 88.
[15] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 48, p. 37.
[16] Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, No. 2093, p. 357.
[17] Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, No. 2094, p. 358.
[18] Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, No. 2095, p. 358.
[19] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, Introduction, p. 7.
[20] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 32, p. 30.
[21] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 16, p. 25.
[22] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 13, p. 23.
[23] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, note 20, pp. 173-174.
[24] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, note 106, p. 212.
[25] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, Introduction, pp. 6-7.
[26] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, Introduction, pp. 4-5.
[27] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 57, p. 40.
[28] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 75, p. 47.
[29] The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book, par 144, p. 72.

Footnote 1:

It must be emphasised however that as the Fast is observed between March 2 and 21, the duration of days and nights does not vary markedly in most parts of the world including polar regions.

Footnote 2:

The annotation under note number 89 in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas clarifies the matter: "While the text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas appears to permit bigamy, Bahá'u'lláh counsels that tranquillity and contentment derive from monogamy. In another Tablet, He underlines the importance of the individual's acting in such a way as to "bring comfort to himself and to his partner". `Abdu'l-Bahá, the authorized Interpreter of the Bahá'í Writings, states that in the text of the Aqdas monogamy is in effect enjoined. He elaborates this theme in a number of Tablets, including the following:

"Know thou that polygamy is not permitted under the law of God, for contentment with one wife hath been clearly stipulated. Taking a second wife is made dependent upon equity and justice being upheld between the two wives, under all conditions. However, observance of justice and equity towards two wives is utterly impossible. The fact that bigamy has been made dependent upon an impossible condition is clear proof of its absolute prohibition. Therefore it is not permissible for a man to have more than one wife."

Polygamy is a very ancient practice among the majority of humanity. The introduction of monogamy has been only gradually accomplished by the Manifestations of God. Jesus, for example, did not prohibit polygamy, but abolished divorce except in the case of fornication; Muhammad limited the number of wives to four, but making plurality of wives contingent on justice, and reintroducing permission for divorce; Bahá'u'lláh, Who was revealing His Teachings in the milieu of a Muslim society, introduced the question of monogamy gradually in accordance with the principles of wisdom and the progressive unfoldment of His purpose. The fact that He left His followers with an infallible Interpreter of His Writings enabled Him to outwardly permit two wives in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas but uphold a condition that enabled `Abdu'l-Bahá to elucidate later that the intention of the law was to enforce monogamy". [10]

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