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Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Most Holy Book):
Tablet study outline

by Jonah Winters

Name of Tablet in Arabic or Persian:
al-Kitáb al-Aqdas (Arabic), though it's usually known by its Persian title Kitáb-i- Aqdas

Translation into English:
The Most Holy ("aqdas") Book ("Kitáb")

Early English translations were done by Anton Haddad, Earl Elder, and Marzieh Gail, but none of these were very good. In 1953 Shoghi Effendi began to translate the Kitáb-i-Aqdas as one of the goals of the ten year crusade. Some of these passages he included in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and The Promised Day is Come. The Universal House of Justice, on the one hundredth anniversary of the Tablet's revelation, finalized and published Shoghi Effendi's translation as The Synopsis and Codification of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (also included in Bahá'í World volume XV: 1968- 73). The entire Tablet was published in 1992, the centenary of the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, by a task force established by the House. The translation took some 7 years to complete and contains the Tablet, the Questions and Answers, an introduction by the House, and other related texts, as well as a glossary and an index. The translation also included a numbering system to help identify paragraphs for various languages. These numbers and paragraph breaks don't exist in the original.

Many books and articles have been written on or include information on the Aqdas. One of the more complete treatments is Suheil Bushrui's The Style of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (University Press of Maryland, 1995), 74pp.

The first authorized Arabic edition was published by the House in 1995.

Significance of Name:
This is one of the few Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh which He Himself named. It is the central Tablet of laws for this Dispensation, the "mother book." Shoghi Effendi called it the Charter of His New World Order (GPB213) and its Revelation "the most signal act of His ministry" (GPB213). Shoghi Effendi also says it was alluded to in the Íqán, anticipated by Isaiah, described by the writer of the Apocalypse as the "new heaven," "new earth," the Tabernacle of God, the Holy City, the Bride, the New Jerusalem.

Tablet was revealed in:
Arabic. But also, in Questions and Answers #42 Bahá'u'lláh refers to "the laws revealed in Persian..." which would seem to indicate that prior texts related to the Aqdas, or perhaps even parts of early drafts of it, might have been revealed in Persian. In _Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh_ vol. 3, Taherzadeh writes that "while in Adrianople He revealed a number of laws in His Persian writings, but did not release them to the believers." (279)

Name of Recipient:
It is addressed to the entirety of the Bahá'í world. It also contains "apostrophes," i.e. asides addressed to individuals not present, especially to Mírzá Yahyá and to a number of world rulers and religious leaders.

Reason for Revelation of the Tablet:
Taherzadeh explains that "for some years, the believers had been asking questions about the laws of the Faith, but Bahá'u'lláh did not find it timely to respond to them. While in Adrianople He revealed a number of laws in His Persian writings, but did not release them to the believers. Questions continued to come to him while in 'Akká, and when the time was propitious, Bahá'u'lláh revealed the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. But from the beginning He stressed to His followers the need to be discreet and wise in the implementation of its laws. He advised them not to practise any of its provisions which might prove to be untimely or could cause agitation or disturbance among the people."

Perhaps the murder of three Azalis by a group of Bahá'ís just a little over a year earlier helped precipitate the finalization and release of the Aqdas at this time.

Questions asked that are answered in Tablet:
The entire book was answered in response to questions, or at minimum requests for a code of laws. One of the specific questions asked might have been who would succeed Bahá'u'lláh, for it is His appointment of Abdu'l-Bahá as "Center of the Covenant" which establishes His Covenant with the Bahá'ís. The Aqdas also explains which Laws revealed by the Báb in the Bayán are now abrogated or amended. Finally, after its revelation, Bahá'u'lláh's amanuensis Zaynu'l- Muqarrabin asked and/or compiled a large collection of specific legal questions which Bahá'u'lláh answered, which were published as the "Questions and Answers."

Date of Revelation:
It was completed in early 1873 (possibly just before July 11), but not made known to the Bahá'ís until later that year (_Basic Bahá'í Dictionary_ 99, 102). Texts related to the Aqdas were revealed as early as 1868, according to some historians and as inferenced by Bahá'u'lláh's mention of the earlier Persian laws in _Questions and Answers_ #42, which Taherzadeh says were revealed as early as Adrianople (vol. 3, 279). The date of 1873 is confirmed by a reference to the fall of Napoleon III, as well as mentions in other Tablets that it was revealed early in the Akká period (see Walbridge, _Sacred Acts_, 248)

Taherzadeh, in _Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh_ vol. 3 page 279, narrows the date down even more precisely: "In a Tablet written by Mírzá Áqá Jan, Bahá'u'lláh's amanuensis, dated 15th of Jamadiyu'l-Awal 1290 (11 July 1873), it is stated that the Kitáb-i-Aqdas was revealed around that time."

Place of Revelation:
`Akká, in the house of `Udi Khammar

Role of Amanuensis or Secretary:
It is not yet known which amanuensis took the original dictation. It is known, though, that the Tablet was revealed aloud. Besides being standard practice at this point, this is also indicated by Bahá'u'lláh's mention that the Báb "listeneth to these verses descending from the Heaven of Revelation..." (paragraph 141).

It should also be pointed out that a copy exists in the handwriting of Abdu'l-Bahá, the first page of which is reproduced as the frontispiece to Taherzadeh's _The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh_ vol. 3. There is also an "official" manuscript — when asked which copy of the Aqdas was best, Abdu'l-Bahá Himself said that the one in the hand of Zaynu'l-Muqarribin was authoritative.

Other Tablets revealed at about the same time:
John Hatcher's _Ocean of His Words_, page 383, lists the following Tablets from 1868-1877:
Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Lawh-i-'Abdu'l-Vahhab, Lawh-i-Abbab, Lawh-i-Fu'ád, Lawh-i-Haft Pursish, Lawh-i-Hikmat, Lawh-i-Hittik, Lawh-i-Ittihad, Lawh-i-Malik-i-Rus, Lawh-i-Malikih, Lawh-i-Manikchi Sahib, Lawh-i-Napulyun II, Lawh-i-Pap, Lawh-i-Pisar-'Amm, Lawh-i- Qad-Ihtaraqa'l-Mukhlisun, Lawh-i-Ra'ís, Lawh-i-Ru'ya, Lawh-i-Salmán II, Lawh-i-Tibb, and the Súriy-i-Haykal.

Style, subject, and genre of the Tablet: [?]
      I. Tone of Tablet
                    1. Tablets with the tone of command and authority.
      II. Subject Covered by Tablet
              1. Writings dealing with interpretation of the old Scriptures, religious beliefs and doctrines of the past.
              2. Writings in which laws and ordinances have been enjoined for this age and laws of the past abrogated.
              4. Tablets concerning matters of government and world order, and those addressed to the kings.
              6. Tablets exhorting men to education, goodly character and divine virtues.
              7. Tablets dealing with social teachings.
      III. Literary Genre of Tablet:
              3. Essay or book, not revealed to a specific person.

Voice of Tablet: [?] Bahá'u'lláh

Outline Contents of Tablet:
The Tablet has too much content to summarize here.

Principal themes of the Tablet:
As with contents, there are far too many themes in the Aqdas to summarize briefly. In _Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh_ vol. 3, pages 276-77, Taherzadeh gives the following general overview: "Though basically a book of laws and ordinances, [the Aqdas] is so revealed that its laws are interwoven with passages of spiritual counsel and exhortation, of weighty pronouncements and divine guidance....

"In revealing the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh may be likened to a celestial bird whose habitation is in the realm of the spirit far above the ken of men, soaring in the spiritual heights of glory. In that station, Bahá'u'lláh speaks about spiritual matters, reveals the verities of His Cause and unveils the glory of His Revelation to mankind. From such a lofty horizon this immortal Bird of the Spirit suddenly and unexpectedly descends upon the world of dust. In this station, Bahá'u'lláh announces and expounds laws. Then the Bird takes its flight back into the spiritual domains. Here the Tongue of Grandeur speaks again with majesty and authority, revealing some of the choicest passages treasured in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas....

"This ascent and descent, the revelation of spiritual teachings on the one hand, and the giving of laws on the other, follow one another throughout the Book. There seems to be no visible pattern for the interweaving of the two, nor is there any apparent connection between them. Bahá'u'lláh, after expounding some of His choicest teachings or revealing some of His counsels and exhortations, abruptly changes the subject and gives one or more laws which outwardly seem not to have any relevance to the previous subject."

Comment on the Tablet's relationship to any other tablets:
There are many ways in which the Aqdas can be related to other Tablets, some of which I'll list here in no particular order.
  1. In its introduction to the authorized translation of the Kitáb-i-Íqán, the Universal House of Justice says that there is an "intimate relationship between the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Holy Books of previous Dispensations" (7).

  2. The most direct relationship the Aqdas has with any previous book is with the Báb's Persian Bayán. The Báb wrote his main book of laws in two languages: a short one in Arabic, and a much longer one in Persian ("Bayán" means "exposition" or "explanation"). He left these unfinished, explaining that the One Whom God Will Make Manifest would complete the revelation (see E. G. Browne, _A Traveller's Narrative_, 353-4 n.4). Though wholly dissimilar in style and even largely in content, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas can be and has been regarded as the completion of the Persian Bayán.

    Taherzadeh, in ibid. 278, elaborates on this: "The laws revealed in the Bayán by the Báb were designed to be short-lived. Some of them were incomplete, being either directly or by implication dependent upon the advent of 'Him Whom God shall make Manifest'. The laws of the Bábí religion were abrogated by the revelation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Only a few of the laws given by the Báb were confirmed by Bahá'u'lláh and these were reinstated in that same book. 'Abdu'l- Bahá has declared that those laws of the Báb which were not confirmed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are to be considered as abrogated. In another Tablet He states that any law revealed elsewhere in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, if contrary to the laws of the Aqdas, is invalid. But those which are not contrary, or are not mentioned in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, are valid and binding."

    Interestingly, the Guardian writes that Bahá'u'lláh also seems to have left His own book of laws unfinished, waiting for the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Bahá to complete it (see item #7, below).

  3. Bahá'u'lláh alludes to the fact that, after His passing, Abdu'l-Bahá would become the Interpreter of His Word and the Center of His Covenant, themes later elaborated on in the Tablet of the Branch and the Kitáb-i-Ahd.

  4. Shoghi Effendi explained once that the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh rests upon two pillars: the laws revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and the principles of the Faith which He revealed in His Tablets after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas.

  5. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas on its own isn't the entirety of Bahá'u'lláh's "book" of laws, because he revealed a number of Tablets later, some of which He explicitly stated were to be considered as part of the text of the Aqdas. One example is the opening line of the Eight Ishraq: "This passage, now written by the Pen of Glory, is accounted as part of the Most Holy Book..." Taherzadeh elaborates: "Indeed, as we survey the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, we come across many Tablets which contain some laws or deal with the elucidation and application of laws. Such Tablets are regarded as supplementary to the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. It is therefore clear that the Kitáb-i-Aqdas on its own does not contain all the laws of Bahá'u'lláh." (_Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh_ vol. 3, 278)

  6. Though it's now published as part of the Aqdas, _Questions and Answers_ was originally a separate text. Taherzadeh explains that "after its revelation Bahá'u'lláh permitted Zaynu'l- Muqarribin, one of His devoted companions, who was formerly a mujtahid (Doctor of Islamic law) and highly experienced in the application of Islamic law, to ask any questions he might have regarding the application of the laws of Bahá'u'lláh. The answers given by Him are contained in a book known as Questions and Answers which is to be regarded as an appendix to the Kitáb-i- Aqdas." (ibid. 278-79)

  7. Shoghi Effendi explains that the Aqdas is "inseparable" from Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament. His explanation is worth quoting in full:

    "It would, however, be helpful and instructive to bear in mind certain basic principles with reference to the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Bahá, which, together with the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, constitutes the chief depository wherein are enshrined those priceless elements of that Divine Civilization, the establishment of which is the primary mission of the Bahá'í Faith. A study of the provisions of these sacred documents will reveal the close relationship that exists between them, as well as the identity of purpose and method which they inculcate. Far from regarding their specific provisions as incompatible and contradictory in spirit, every fair-minded inquirer will readily admit that they are not only complementary, but that they mutually confirm one another, and are inseparable parts of one complete unit. A comparison of their contents with the rest of Bahá'í sacred Writings will similarly establish the conformity of whatever they contain with the spirit as well as the letter of the authenticated writings and sayings of Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá. In fact, he who reads the Aqdas with care and diligence will not find it hard to discover that the Most Holy Book itself anticipates in a number of passages the institutions which Abdu'l-Bahá ordains in His Will. By leaving certain matters unspecified and unregulated in His Book of Laws, Bahá'u'lláh seems to have deliberately left a gap in the general scheme of Bahá'í Dispensation, which the unequivocal provisions of the Master's Will have filled..." (_World Order of Bahá'u'lláh_, 3-4)

  8. Finally, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is related to all of Bahá'u'lláh's other Tablets in that it and it alone is the "most holy" book.
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