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Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Most Holy Book):
Notes on the Style of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas

by Suheil Badi Bushrui

Notes by Jonah Winters:

The following quotation from Shoghi Effendi relates directly to the style of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas:
"The Qur'an should be to some extent studied by the Bahá'ís but they certainly need not seek to acquire a mastery over it, which would take years, unless they really want to. All Divine Revelation seems to have been thrown out in flashes. The Prophets never composed treatises. That is why in the Qur'an and our own Writings different subjects are so often included in one Tablet. It pulsates, so to speak. That is why it is "Revelation".
      Unfolding Destiny, pages 453-454

This quotation describes the style of the Aqdas very well. The Aqdas switches subjects with surprising liberty: there literally can be a sentence that ordains an auxiliary language and forbids harsh treatment of animals. Some subjects are also repeated more than once in the Aqdas.

The Aqdas was also written in a style somewhat similar to the Qur'an. The Qur'an was revealed in saj', which is rhyming prose, sort of half prose and half poetry. It was a style common in the pre-Islamic literary (though memorized and spoken, not written) tradition of Arabia, in which recited poetry served both as the chief art form of the culture and as well the chief means of disseminating news. The Aqdas isn't written in exactly the same form as the Qur'an — it is more prosaic, less metrical — but it is possibly the most Qur'an-like of Bahá'u'lláh's Writings. As well, both share the same disjointed appearance.

The near-similarity between the Qur'an and the Aqdas has two interesting significances. One, the fact that Bahá'u'lláh chose an almost quranic style for the Aqdas would have been just one more indicator to His immediate audience (nineteenth-century Middle Easterners) that the book had a divine origin and was a repository of divine laws and teachings. Two, and this is especially interesting, it would have been an indirect proof of his "Prophethood." When asked what proofs He brought of His Prophethood, Muhammad replied that His Person Himself was one proof, and His book another. The Qur'an itself was held to be of self-evident divine origin. That is, the content, literary style, and sheer power of the text itself were seen as being super-human. Muhammad emphasized that a book like the Qur'an was incapable of being reproduced by a human, and the Qur'an was referred to as "The Inimitable Qur'an." To contest this, a number of poets and writers did attempt to produce a work in a style similar to the Qur'an, but found themselves incapable. To Muslims, then, there has not been any book written with the same divine power and quality as the Qur'an since. Bahá'u'lláh, though, did produce at least one book written in a style that would have been immediately recognizable as "quranic" by His audience. As no mere human had found him/herself capable of producing a truly quranic work, Bahá'u'lláh's ability to do so would have been one more proof of His Station.

Fascinating, isn't it! To me, it's one more reminder of how a knowledge of Islam can help one appreciate Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation even more — He often chose styles, or titles, or used allusions that would have been immediately recognizable and significant to His contemporary Middle Eastern audience. It reminds me of, among other things, His decision to title the Hidden Words as the Hidden Book of Fatimah. The title alone would have indicated to His Shi'i audience that He was the return of the Qa'im, the only figure who could possess the book.

      Jonah Winters

Summary of Soheil Bushrui, The Style of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas:

As the Bahá'í Faith is still young and there is not too much scholarship yet, there are very few books devoted to a discussion of a single Tablet or Book of the Faith. We in this class are thus lucky that one of the very few books devoted to a single piece of Scripture was written on the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: Suheil Bushrui's The Style of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: Aspects of the Sublime (Maryland: University Press of Maryland, 1995, 78pp.).

This book is written in a style that I think is quite relevant to the type of study we're doing in this Wilmette Institute course. Its primary intent is to share an appreciation of the book and help teach about its depth and wonder. The book is written in an academic style, but it's not so much an "intellectual" study as a literary meditation. It offers many scholarly facts and analyses about the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, but does so with a devotional and poetic tone. It's also a unique book in that it's one of the few secondary works on the Faith which was published by a non-Bahá'í press, a sure sign that the Faith is achieving greater respect in the non-Bahá'í world!

You can order this book from BDS for $16 plus shipping (write, or call 800-999-9019). But as many of you might hesitate to do so because you might not know anything about the book, and since we can't photocopy extensive passages without breaking copyright and depriving the author of royalties, I think I should summarize briefly the contents of this valuable resource. This is of course not a complete summary, but just a listing of some salient points. (numbers refer to the book's page numbers).    - Jonah Winters


    pp. 7-13: discussion of the history of the Book and its place in Bahá'u'lláh's life and ministry

    14: summary of 5 categories of laws in the Aqdas

    15-16: comparison of laws of the Báb with laws of the Aqdas

    16-17: summary of translation and publication history of the Aqdas

    18-19: discussion of the nature of translation


    21: reference to the "...weigh not the Book of God..." passage

    22-23: the place of scholarship on the Aqdas

    24-25: other intro notes and brief comments


    26-34: the character of the Arabic language and its unique qualities and complexities; comments on the significance of Arabic for the Qur'an


    35-38: the nature of Revelation and the Aqdas' place in the Bahá'í Revelation

    39: the literary form of the Aqdas

    39-40: the content of the Aqdas

    41-46: the style of the Aqdas; signs which constitute proof of its Divine origin

    47-53: literary devices used in the Aqdas (rhyme, alliteration, poetry, literary juxtaposition, metaphor, alteration of person ["I" vs. "we" vs. "you"], personification)

    53-68: keywords; symbolism used; textual symbolism based on Arabic etymologies and the meanings of the word "Kitáb" (book) and other words related to it; meanings of "hikmat" (wisdom) and related words; meanings of "Bayán" (exposition, explatation); the symbols of water and oceans; the symbol of the Pen

    68-74: the "Mystic Realm": the uplifting and ethereal qualities of the language used in the Aqdas; the theological/mystical meanings of its origin; the relation of the Aqdas to the Bahá'í teachings of progressive revelation and manifestation theology

Some quotations selected by a student:

I have excerpted some items from Suheil Bushrui's The Style of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. These seemed important to me, and I would like to share them with those who may not have a copy of Dr. Bushrui's book. This is a wonderful book that explains a lot of how the Aqdas is written. Dr. Bushrui's style is wonderful.

    "The revelation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas may thus be seen as marking the inauguration of the third and final phase in the unfoldment of Bahá'u'lláh's Mission." (p.13)

    "In general terms, the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas may be said to fall within five different categories: those prescribing religious and personal observances and duties such as prayer, fasting and pilgrimage; those regulating matters of personal status such as marriage, divorce and death; those prohibiting certain wrongful actions and defining penalties for their commission; those providing for the new social structures of Bahá'u'lláh's World Order through the establishment of such institutions as the House of Justice and the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár; and those imparting general spiritual counsels such as may be found in the sacred Scriptures of the other great world religions." (p. 14)

    "In all probability no book, however, will entail so intense a learning process as the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, insofar as it is simultaneously an epitome of the tenets of Bahá'u'lláh's Cause, a digest of His Law, and the Charter of His New World Order." (p. 20)

    "Among all the languages of the world, Arabic is unique in being a sacred language." (p. 26)

    "In point of fact, no less than approximately sixty percent of Bahá'u'lláh's Tablets and other Writings were revealed in 'the perspicuous Arabic tongue,' as He designates it, in contradistinction to the 'luminous Persian tongue' in which the remainder of His Writings was revealed." (p. 32)

    "Concise in form, yet rich in meaning and sense, it contains the elements of both shi'r (poetry) and saj' (rhymed prose) but transcends the limitations of each" (p. 39)

    "The fundamental values it inculcates are therefore unity, equity and moderation, all of which it regards as spiritual in essence, and not merely of social significance alone." (p. 40)

    "For Bahá'ís no less than Muslims, it is a basic tenet of belief that the very form in which the Word is cast represents on of the major signs or proofs of a Divine Revelation." (p. 41)

    "Just as the style of the Qur'án was totally new to the Arabs of the Prophet's time, albeit embodying the quintessential soul and spirit of their language, so too the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitutes a veritable miracle of innovation." (p. 47)

    "An outstanding feature of the rhythm of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is its use of different repetitive beats – double, triple or quadruple – in a manner which can only imperfectly be reproduced in English." (p.48)

    "Another important rhetorical device of which ample use is made in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is metaphor, by means of which abstract concepts are expressed in concrete terms..." (p. 51)
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