Provisional Translations, Policy Concerning
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice1994-11-26
The questions which you put to Mr. ... on 23 August 1994 were submitted by him to the Universal House of Justice, and were in turn referred to the Research Department for its comments on issues which had already been determined in the past by the House of Justice. The Research Department's memorandum dated 26 November is enclosed, and it is hoped that its contents and the extracts attached to it will help to clarify some of the points which you raised.
In response to your concerns about a category of "approved" translators and the potential inequities to which this might lead, the House of Justice wishes you to know that it does not have such a list of translators who are exempt from the requirement of submitting their provisional translations to the Bahá'í World Centre for approval prior to publication. All individuals must continue to submit their provisional translations to the World Centre for approval. In making their submissions, they are free to request permission to publish specific provisional translations, and these will be considered on a case by case basis.
At this time the House of Justice is giving consideration to decentralizing, to the extent advisable and feasible, the responsibilities for revising existing translations or preparing new translations of hitherto untranslated texts. It is certainly not the intention of the House of Justice to discourage Bahá'í scholarship among the believers; on the contrary it attaches great importance to this area of activity. The existing policies are, by their very nature, temporary, and should be viewed as such by Bahá'í scholars.
Your recommendation that a translation reviewing committee, made up of translators whose work is known to the House of Justice, be formed under the auspices of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, was not approved.
The House of Justice assures you of its prayers for the success of your endeavours in discharging your important responsibilities.
With loving Bahá'í greetings,
Enclosure with attachment
M E M O R A N D U M
To: The Universal House of Justice
Policy Concerning Provisional Translations
The Research Department has studied the electronic mail messages dated 23 August 1994 and 14 September 1994 from ... to ..., who conveyed them to the Universal House of Justice at ...'s request. ... enquires about the current policies and procedures concerning the publication of new translations in the English language. He sets out his understanding of the present situation as follows:
...if a Bahá'í scholar writes an article about some aspect of the Bahá'í Faith he cannot translate a passage from the untranslated writings into English and publish it without first sending the translation to the Universal House of Justice for approval. Presumably it is possible for the scholar to paraphrase the passage; he might even translate phrases and collections of words, but not put quotation marks around them, thereby disguising the fact that they are a translation. But it is not permissible to translate even a few words within quotation marks, even if the footnote states the translation is a provisional one by the author.
... also calls attention to recent decisions of the Universal House of Justice permitting ... and others to publish provisional translations. He cites a memorandum dated 8 September 1991, written on behalf of the House of Justice, which states:
The first question ... concerns the use of provisional (and therefore unreviewed) translations of the Bahá'í Writings that appeared in an article by .... We have been asked to say that the policy of the House of Justice in this matter has not changed and that translations into English, and revisions of earlier translations into that language, must be checked at the World Centre and officially approved before publication. There have been, however, occasions when the House of Justice has permitted the publication of provisional translations made by individuals whose work is known to it. In these cases the translations usually appear in scholarly or other publications of limited distribution and are not likely to be used as a basis for translations into other languages. Such usage does not alter the general policy as stated above.
In light of the foregoing, ... expresses disquiet that perhaps two categories of scholars are being created -- those whose translations need to be submitted to the World Centre for approval and those who are exempt from this requirement. He asks whether, in fact, there is a list of "approved" Bahá'í translators and raises a number of questions about its membership and the practical implications of having such a list, e.g., the possibility that the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States might appoint a translation reviewing committee which could, potentially, serve to speed up review, give translators new opportunities to gain experience and encourage a larger volume of new translations.
We attach a compilation of extracts from communications written by and on behalf of the House of Justice relating to the publication of new translations from which the following facts emerge:
- "Keen and capable scholars" are not prohibited from translating passages from the Sacred Writings .
- The policy calling for the submission of new translations into English to the Universal House of Justice for approval was first articulated in the memorandum on Bahá'í publishing in 1971 (extract ). It has been reiterated on a number of occasions (extracts , , , , ).
- Currently, the World Centre assumes responsibility for:
- "the careful checking and approval of translations made into English from the original Writings". This policy is of importance since "translations into most other languages should be based on the approved English texts and not be made directly and solely from the original texts".  and 
- deciding "what Works of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá are to be translated when the time is ripe" , and for establishing a priority for their translation  and 
- assessing the timeliness, the wisdom, and the potential impact "on the non-Bahá'í public" of releasing translations on certain subjects 
- Given the pressure of work of the Translation Committee at the World Centre, the Universal House of Justice has made the following provisions which can apply in the absence of an approved translation:
- provisional translations of passages can be prepared to assist individuals in their study, but they should not be published "unless they are checked and approved by the World Centre" 
- an author may replace "unauthorized translations" with "general descriptions of [the] contents" of the passages 
- authors may "paraphrase the passages" they wish to include in their manuscripts 
- While not altering the "general policy", there have been occasions when the Universal House of Justice has "permitted the publication of provisional translations made by individuals whose work is known to it" . This provision appears to operate under the following circumstances:
- when the author is known to be competent, "there is no objection in principle" to the publication of unauthorized translations "if clearly identified as provisional in character" 
- "the translations usually appear in scholarly or other publications of limited distribution" 
- the translations "are not likely to be used as a basis for translations into other languages" 
While it is very difficult to piece together a coherent picture of the application of the policies concerning the publication of new translations in the English language, we offer the following comment based on material provided by the Master Reference File and a perusal of a number of Bahá'í journals and publications.
- Publishing Trusts and other Bahá'í publishers submit new translations for approval prior to publication.
- In the United Kingdom, the "Bahá'í Studies Bulletin", which first appeared in 1982, regularly features provisional translations by such individuals as ..., ..., ..., ..., ..., ..., ..., ..., ..., and ....
To date, the Research Department has not been able to locate any communications between the Universal House of Justice and the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom or the editors of the "Bahá'í Studies Bulletin" concerning the publication of provisional translations in this journal. It is clear, however, that some of those whose translations were published in the "Bulletin" in the early 1980s were aware of the need to submit their translations to the World Centre for approval and they complied with this requirement for publications other than the "Bulletin".
It is possible that, from the outset, the "Bahá'í Studies Bulletin" was not regarded as a publication, but rather as a means for sharing notes and manuscripts between friends and scholars. - "The Journal of Bahá'í Studies" published in Canada includes provisional translations made either by the author of an article or someone else. Such translations are identified as "provisional", often in a footnote. It is interesting to observe that some of these provisional translations have been taken from the "Bahá'í Studies Bulletin".
- With regard to the statement written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the effect that "there have been ... occasions when the House of Justice has permitted the publication of provisional translations made by individuals whose work is known to it" : Based on the materials we had assembled, apart from the situation of ..., which was specifically mentioned by the House of Justice, we have been unsuccessful in our attempts to identify other such "occasions".
- With regard to the case of ..., the permission granted by the House of Justice does not appear to be a blanket permission, but rather pertains to particular translations ... wanted to use in his paper. Please refer to extract  in the attached compilation.
- We have not been able to identify a list of "approved" translators who are exempted from the requirement of submitting their translations to the World Centre for approval prior to publication.
Extracts from Communications Written by and on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice
1. It has been decided that doctoral theses and similar treatises submitted to institutions of learning for the obtaining of a degree are not subject to Bahá'í review unless they are to be published more widely than is required for the degree in question.... (11 May 1982, from a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) 
As to approval of the translations, Mr. ... is in frequent contact with the World Centre and is familiar with the fact that whenever he wishes to have any of his translations published he should submit them to the World Centre for checking. (25 July 1982, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States) 
Furthermore, as you are well aware, the enemies of the Faith would use any pretext to attack the Bahá'í community and discredit its Founders or its teachings. It is therefore not wise at this time to undertake large-scale projects to publish the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, or those of the Bab and `Abdu'l-Bahá, without carefully assessing the effect of such publications on the non-Bahá'í public.... This, of course, does not mean that such keen and capable scholars as Mr. ... should be prohibited from translating passages from the Sacred Writings or, indeed, entire Tablets, provided this is done with discrimination and, possibly, as indicated in the letter of your Publishing Trust dated 21 June, undertaken in stages with adequate annotations for reproduction in, or incorporation in articles for, the "World Order" magazine. Such a procedure would avoid placing too much pressure on the World Centre at this time. (19 December 1982, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States) 
OWING PRESSURE WORK HERE, SUGGEST REPLACE THESE PASSAGES WITH GENERAL DESCRIPTIONS OF CONTENTS.... (23 August 1988, telex from the Universal House of Justice to a publisher) 
When a translation is approved by one or more translation committees appointed by the House of Justice, the translation is regarded as authorized. This does not mean it is final, as improvements or amendments can always be made in the future. In the work of translation from the original text into English, the following statement was made by Shoghi Effendi when he released the text of his translation of "The Kitab-i-Iqan":
This is one more attempt to introduce to the West, in language however inadequate, this book of unsurpassed pre-eminence among the writings of the Author of the Bahá'í Revelation. The hope is that it may assist others in their efforts to approach what must always be regarded as the unattainable goal -- a befitting rendering of Bahá'u'lláh's matchless utterance. (11 February 1992, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)