Dear Bahá’í Friend,
The Universal House of Justice has received your email letter of 5 January 2013 in which you seek guidance about posting online the pilgrimage accounts of ... and we have been directed to convey the following.
Shoghi Effendi permitted the sharing, among the believers, of the notes taken down by pilgrims. At the same time, however, he discouraged widespread dissemination of the notes through publishing them and indicated that it would not be appropriate to give them out to members of the general public. As explained in a letter written on his behalf:
The notes of all pilgrims, whoever they may be, taken during the time of the Master or hence, are merely personal impressions of the pilgrim and have to be considered as such. They have no special significance. Everything which either the Master or Shoghi Effendi desired to communicate to the friends they have mentioned in their letters. Hearsay and notes of pilgrims have only a personal value, because they reawaken past impressions. In many cases Shoghi Effendi has gone a step further and even discouraged publishing them....
...The interests of the Cause have often suffered from reports taken over by pilgrims — not untruths, but misunderstandings — and it is our duty to do our utmost for that aim.
(From a letter dated 19 February 1929 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual)
As personal impressions, such notes are always filtered through the individual’s perception and can never be fully accurate representations of the words of the Guardian. In a letter dated 17 February 1938 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, a believer was informed that even though her notes were “substantially correct, ... he does not advise that you circulate them as constituting his own words”. Even when the notes faithfully represent the sentiments of the Guardian, they are excerpts, taken out of context, from informal and sometimes private conversations that were never meant to be public statements. Since, as we have been assured, whatever he wished to communicate publicly he wrote in his letters, if information is contained in pilgrims’ notes which is not also found in his written messages, it is not unreasonable to infer that it was not information that he wished to communicate to the community as a whole — much less to the general public.
In the Lawḥ-i-Maqṣúd, Bahá’u’lláh explains the ethical responsibility that is attendant on the power of speech:
Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible.
In another Tablet, He reveals that He Himself exercised discretion and restraint in the disclosure of the truths revealed to Him and explains:
How great the multitude of truths which the garment of words can never contain! How vast the number of such verities as no expression can adequately describe, whose significance can never be unfolded, and to which not even the remotest allusions can be made! How manifold are the truths which must remain unuttered until the appointed time is come! Even as it hath been said: "Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed, nor can everything that he can disclose be regarded as timely, nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the capacity of those who hear it."
(Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, section LXXXIX, paragraph 3)
It is evident, then, that a number of factors must be considered when determining whether to share pilgrim notes and how to do it. The concern is even more pronounced when moving from an era when the dissemination of such material was necessarily limited and normally involved the passing of typed copies from one individual to another, to one in which material can be distributed widely and instantly and compiled in a manner that may create significant misconceptions.
It was, therefore, quite appropriate to seek the advice of your National Assembly before widely distributing the notes in your possession. The sensitive nature of the material in the notes is clear. Having now received the institution’s recommendations, you may be confident that in implementing them you will be acting in a way that demonstrates a sense of responsibility towards those Bahá’í communities where the friends are in a precarious situation, as well as expressing the respect due the wishes of the Guardian and the privacy of his informal conversations with the pilgrims.
With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat
[cc: National Spiritual Assemblies of ... and ...]