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TAGS: Bahaullah, Life of (documents); Kalimat Press; Review (general); Ustad Muhammad-Ali Salmani
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Two letters, to a Bahá'í publisher and an individual, regarding the 1982 publication of My Memories of Bahá'u'lláh, an autobiography of Bahá'u'lláh's barber, Ustad Salmani.
The Universal House of Justice wrote to both Kalimát Press and Dr. Juan Cole on the same day regarding this issue. Both letters are included here, and names left on, with the permission of the original recipients. The book My Memories of Bahá'u'lláh was published by Kalimát Press in 1982. Submitted by and posted with permission of recipient.

Salmani's My Memories of Baha'u'llah, Publication of

by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice


Department of the Secretariat

2 December 1982

Kalimát Press

Dear Bahá'í Friends,

The Universal House of Justice has instructed us to thank you for your letter of 1 October 1982 and the copy of My Memories of Bahá'u'lláh as well as the copy of correspondence that you had on this matter. As was expressed in the letter written on its behalf on 20 September 1982, the House of Justice greatly regrets the confusion which unfortunately arose over the publication of this book and the problems that have been caused to your firm through no fault of yours.

Enclosed for your information is a copy of a letter written to Mr. Juan Cole on the instructions of the Universal House of Justice. From this you will see why the House of Justice feels that the publication of such a manuscript in such a form is untimely and unwise. It is clear that neither the reviewing committee, nor others involved, were sensitive to these points. Indeed it is apparent that you yourselves misconstrued the reasons behind the ad hoc committee's requests for the deletion of certain passages.

In view of this experience the House of Justice has decided that it will have to review all such documents itself in future before permitting them to be published.

Since the English translation of the Salmání memoirs is already in print, the House of Justice has decided that it may remain so, but in any reprinting you should not re-introduce any of the passages that you have omitted. The House of Justice does not wish the Persian text to be published at this time. However, a well-written version of the text would be useful at the World Centre and therefore the House of Justice will be glad to purchase from you, for the price you are paying, the calligraphic version that you have commissioned.

The House of Justice cannot undertake to reimburse you for the loss of the sales that you might have made had the publication of the book not been delayed; as you say, such amounts are impossible to assess. It remains ready, however, to cover any additional costs of production that were incurred because of the changes that had to be made. You should feel free to share this letter, if you wish, with the translator, the author of the introduction, and others concerned with the project.

    With loving Bahá'í greetings,
    For Department of the Secretariat

cc: The International Teaching Centre
The National Spiritual Assembly of the United States


Department of the Secretariat

December 1982

Mr. Juan Ricardo Cole
Department of Medieval and Modern History
Lucknow University, India

Dear Bahá'í Friend,

The Universal House of Justice has now been able to compare the published edition of the Salmání memoirs with the Persian manuscript and to consider the passages which the ad hoc committee had marked for deletion. It is clear that Kalimát Press scrupulously followed all the provisions for review of this book before publication, but, unfortunately the process has been dogged by a series of misunderstandings and confusions. The House of Justice has instructed us to send you the following comments on the points raised in your letter of 13 August 1982.

When the early correspondence took place between the World Centre and Kalimát Press concerning this publication, the House of Justice was relying on the discretion of the appropriate committee in the United States to check not only the normal review aspects, but also the timeliness and wisdom of such a publication. It did not itself check the manuscript. If it had done so it now concludes that it would not gave given permission for its publication or translation at this time, for reasons which will be explained below.

In June 1982, concern was expressed to the Universal House of Justice about the 'possible publication in full, in Persian, of these memoirs,' and action was taken in July, in great haste, to eliminate the most harmful passages so that the publication of the book, which was already at the press, could proceed. Unfortunately at that time the ad hoc committee was unaware of the earlier correspondence and of the fact that certain passages had already been quoted in translation in books by Mr. Hasan Balyuzi and Mr. Adíb Taherzadeh.

Kalimát Press, in its turn, knowing of the prior publication of these passages, and not understanding the reasons for the proposed deletions, has, in fact, retained the larger part of the objectionable passages. The publication is a fait accompli and the House of Justice has therefore decided to permit it to stand, but not to permit the publication of the Persian text which, in fact, would be more damaging than the English version.

To the points of substance which you have raised concerning the publication of historical texts, the House of Justice instructs us to explain the following.

In order to preserve basic information and historical materials for the use of future historians, the beloved Guardian instructed the communities throughout Iran to record the history of the Faith in their localities, and also gave instructions for the memoirs of a number of early believers to be written down and preserved. This was not a new advice and many friends, eyewitnesses of certain events in the lives of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, had already committed their reminiscences to writing. The memoirs of Ustád Muhammad-'Alíy-i- Salmání are among these and were written down from his spoken recollections in his old age. There is no question whatsoever of suppressing such records - on the contrary, the whole purpose of having them made was to preserve them, and they have been made available to Bahá'í historians such as Mr. Balyuzi and Mr. Taherzadeh for use in their work. When excerpts are translated and published in such works, they are placed in context, related to other records and, where necessary, annotated and commented on. You will readily agree that such a use is not the same as publication in full, even if supplementary footnotes are added, and does not carry the same implications.

In time entire collections of early documents of the Faith will be published in scholarly editions for general use. An initial step in such a process is Dr. Moojan Momen's admirable book "The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, 1844-1944 — Some Contemporary Western Accounts". Additional considerations, however, have to be weighed in publishing texts by Bahá'í writers.

At the present time the general public, even if it has heard of the Faith, is largely uninformed or misinformed. An increasing amount of misinformation is continually being disseminated by opponents of the Faith, both in the east and in the west. The principal task of the Bahá'ís at the present time - and especially of Bahá'í scholars - is to present a true picture of the Faith to the general public and to relate the Bahá'í teachings to the concerns and problems of mankind. When a Bahá'í publishing house issues a translation of a document such as Salmání's memoirs, the implication to an average reader is that the Bahá'ís consider this particular account worthy of publication and, in the absence of adequate footnotes or commentary to the contrary, the reader will assure that Salmání's actions and statements are approved by Bahá'ís and are accurate portrayals of the Faith. After all, Salmání was a close companion of Bahá'u'lláh, comparable in the eyes of a Christian reader with one of the early disciples of Christ.

Viewed in this light, certain of Salmání's accounts are misleading or unworthy and, apart from distorting the Faith for the average reader, can provide material for the enemies of the Faith who at the present time are seizing every opportunity to attack the Cause and blacken its reputation.

To take a few examples from the passages queried by the ad hoc committee:

1.   p.17. There is a brief account of some believers from Sultánábád saying to Bahá'u'lláh "You being God, Uncle, why do You give us such a hard row to hoe?" It is an old accusation against the Bahá'í's, especially from Muslims, that we regard Bahá'u'lláh as God. To print such a story without an appropriate commentary gives fuel to our Muslim enemies and makes the Faith look ridiculous to a western reader. Unfortunately Kalimát Press, not realizing the reason for the objection, let the objectionable part stand and deleted a parenthetical comment "The Shí'ís, however, were very hostile", which is entirely innocuous.

2.   p.30. There are some virtually incomprehensible comments about Mírzá Áqá Ján's head, which are of no historical importance but are unpleasant and unworthy.

3.   pp.31-34. There are three unpleasant stories recounted by Salmání to illustrate Azal's gluttony. Shoghi Effendi was always very careful in his accounts of Azal to confine his strictures to his truly infamous conduct. He never stooped to making personal criticisms of such a nature, which are unworthy. Publication of such stories in the context of an annotated edition of a historical document for scholarly study is one thing; publication in a book for the general reader is quite another. Again, unfortunately, Kalimát Press did not appreciate the reason for the committee's objection and published the whole passage apart from a couple of brief deletions which were of no significance.

4.   p.34. There is the account of a disagreement between Bahá'u'lláh and Azal over the shaving of Azal's son's head — another unworthy story, the point of which is obscure.

There are others of a similar character.

The passages which have already been published in translation, such as Azal's attempt to persuade Salmání to murder Bahá'u'lláh, provide striking examples of the profound difference between publication in the context of a properly balanced historical exposition, and publication as unadorned parts of a narrative.

In sum, to a knowledgeable Bahá'í reader, Salmání's memoirs are a graphic illustration of the overwhelming problems with which Bahá'u'lláh had to deal both from His enemies and because of the actions of some of His own faithful followers; but to an uninformed reader they give a misleading and distorted picture of the faith and of Bahá'u'lláh Himself.

    With loving Bahá'í greetings,
    (signed) For Department of the Secretariat

    cc: The International Teaching Centre
    National Assembly of the United States
    Kalimát Press
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