Bahá'í review

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"Bahá'í review" refers to a requirement within the Bahá'í Faith, that members of this religion must secure the permission of a Bahá'í committee before publishing anything on the faith. The Bahá'í community says the review is needed to protect the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith in its infancy when inaccurate statements could cause harm, especially given the current persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran and other parts of the world. Some characterize this requirement as a form of censorship, since there are penalties for non-compliance.

History[edit]

Bahá'u'lláh wrote that Bahá'í authors should write in a manner as to attract souls:

"Thou hast written that one of the friends hath composed a treatise. This was mentioned in the Holy Presence, and this is what was revealed in response: Great care should be exercised that whatever is written in these days doth not cause dissension, and invite the objection of the people. Whatever the friends of the one true God say in these days is listened to by the people of the world. It hath been revealed in the Lawh-i-Hikmat: "The unbelievers have inclined their ears towards us in order to hear that which might enable them to cavil against God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting." Whatever is written should not transgress the bounds of tact and wisdom, and in the words used there should lie hid the property of milk, so that the children of the world may be nurtured therewith, and attain maturity. We have said in the past that one word hath the influence of spring and causeth hearts to become fresh and verdant, while another is like unto blight which causeth the blossoms and flowers to wither. God grant that authors among the friends will write in such a way as would be acceptable to fair-minded souls, and not lead to cavilling by the people."
Bahá'u'lláh, The Compilation of Compilations, vol II, p. 407.

The origin of the requirement for review comes from `Abdu'l-Bahá.

"So great is the importance and so supreme is the authority of these assemblies that once `Abdu'l-Bahá after having himself and in his own handwriting corrected the translation made into Arabic of the Ishraqat (the Effulgences) by Sheikh Faraj, a Kurdish friend from Cairo, directed him in a Tablet to submit the above-named translation to the Spiritual Assembly of Cairo, that he may seek from them before publication their approval and consent. These are His very words in that Tablet: — 'His honour, Sheikh Faraju'llah, has here rendered into Arabic with greatest care the Ishraqat and yet I have told him that he must submit his version to the Spiritual Assembly of Egypt, and I have conditioned its publication upon the approval of the above-named Assembly. This is so that things may be arranged in an orderly manner, for should it not be so any one may translate a certain Tablet and print and circulate it on his own account. Even a non-believer might undertake such work, and thus cause confusion and disorder. If it be conditioned, however, upon the approval of the Spiritual Assembly, a translation prepared, printed and circulated by a non-believer will have no recognition whatever.'
"This is indeed a clear indication of the Master's [`Abdu'l-Bahá's] express desire that nothing whatever should be given to the public by any individual among the friends, unless fully considered and approved by the Spiritual Assembly in his locality; and if this (as is undoubtedly the case) is a matter that pertains to the general interest of the Cause in that land, then it is incumbent upon the Spiritual Assembly to submit it to the consideration and approval of the national body representing all the various local assemblies. Not only with regard to publication, but all matters without any exception whatsoever, regarding the interests of the Cause in that locality, individually or collectively, should be referred exclusively to the Spiritual Assembly in that locality, which shall decide upon it, unless it be a matter of national interest, in which case it shall be referred to the national body. With this national body also will rest the decision whether a given question is of local or national interest."
Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá'í Administration, p. 23. [1]

Shoghi Effendi, with the above statement in mind, stated that due to the infancy of the Bahá'í Faith, the accuracy of information presented about it needed to be verified since an inaccurate statement could cause much harm to it. Shoghi Effendi wrote:

"They [referring to the members of every Spiritual Assembly] must supervise, in these days when the Cause is still in its infancy, all Bahá'í publications and translations, and provide in general for a dignified and accurate presentation of all Bahá'í literature and its distribution to the general public."
Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá'í Administration, p. 40. [2]

Purpose[edit]

The purpose of the review is threefold:

  • To ensure the accuracy of the presentation of the teachings of the Faith
"The function of reviewing is, essentially, to check the Author's exposition of the Bahá'í Faith and its teachings, which may include verification of any quotations from Bahá'í writings. This function should not be confused with evaluation of the literary merit of a work or of its value as a publication, which are normally the prerogative of the publisher..."
The Universal House of Justice: from a letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles, March 11, 1965, reproduced in Lights of Guidance, p. 101.
  • To protect the Faith from misrepresentation by its own followers
"... The purpose of review is to protect the Faith against misrepresentation by its own followers at this early stage of its existence when comparatively few people have any knowledge of it. An erroneous presentation of the Teachings by a Bahá'í who is accounted a scholar, in a scholarly journal, would by that very fact, do far more harm than an erroneous presentation made by an obscure Bahá'í author with no pretensions to scholarship."
From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, October 8, 1980 reproduced in Lights of Guidance, p. 101.
  • To ensure dignity of the form
"It is an obligation of all Bahá'ís to present the faith in a dignified manner and therefore when writing articles about the Faith they should take into consideration the type of magazine or other publication in which the article is to appear. Should there be any question about its character they should consult with the National Spiritual Assembly. In addition, all authors should bear in mind that anything written about the Faith for publication is subject to review before submission to the publishers."
The Universal House of Justice: from a letter written to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, September 15, 1968 reproduced in Lights of Guidance, p. 101.

Functioning[edit]

The review committee is recommended to be small, composed of two or three believers which have an adequate education and knowledge of the Bahá'í Faith; and they need to deal with submitted works in a prompt manner. Their purpose is to uphold the following standards for the publication:

  • That is conforms with the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith
  • That it is accurate, which may include verification of any quotations from the Bahá'í writings
  • That the presentation is dignified

The review committee does not evaluate the literary merit of the work which is the prerogative of the publisher.

Cessation[edit]

Some people have suggested that since accurate information on the faith is now widely available, the policy should be discontinued. An example would be Juan Cole, who writes:

"The Bahá'í faith imposes a system of in-house censorship on all Bahá'ís [...]just as most Middle Eastern governments have practiced censorship since the rise of printing in the nineteenth century. Within the Bahá'í religion, any piece of writing by a Bahá'í author about the religion intended for publication is to be vetted by elected Bahá'í officials at the appropriate level (local, national, international). This requirement has provoked many conflicts between Bahá'í officials and writers over the years. Critics charge that it has led to a paucity of intellectually acute Bahá'í literature, to a lack of independent magazines and to the withdrawal of a number of Bahá'í writers. The innovative research findings of the new generation of Bahá'í academics has in particular brought them into conflict with the conservatives in charge of the censorship apparatus. Although Bahá'í officials insist that the censorship requirement ("literature review") is "temporary," it has already lasted nearly a century, and the House of Justice has made it clear that it intends to keep it in effect for a very long time. And although it is sometimes alleged that "review" protects Bahá'í authors, in practice even work submitted for review, such as the Dialogue "Modest Proposal," can attract sanctions. Prepublication censorship has been among the primary techniques by which Bahá'í authors have been prevented from publishing on the controversies of contemporary Bahá'í history, and it is notable that the history of the community since about 1950 has not been written about in any detail. Contemporary history is off-limits as a subject because it would involve making value judgments on present office-holders. It is often alleged by Bahá'í conservatives that "literature review" does not actually impede the publication of research findings. But in 1988 the all-male House of Justice permanently suppressed an academic paper arguing that women could serve on the UHJ, insisting that only men could serve. "[3]

Bahá'ís would note that Juan Cole is not a disinterested observer, as he states in his paper, as he had withdrawn from membership in the Bahá'í Faith as a result of an investigation into his email postings on a variety of controversial issues.

In regards to the process of review, the Bahá'í institutions have signalled their intention to continue the requirement into the indefinite future; they state that even though the Bahá'í Faith is no longer an obscure religion, the large majority of people do not know of its existence, and that most of its adherents are relatively new Bahá'ís. Because of these two things, and that the Bahá'í Faith can no longer be protected by obscurity, it becomes more important to follow the guidance of `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi to present a correct view when more people will first hear about it:

"The Faith is as yet in its infancy. Despite its emergence from obscurity, even now the vast majority of the human race remains ignorant of its existence; moreover, the vast majority of its adherents are relatively new Bahá'ís. The change implied by this new stage in its evolution is that whereas heretofore this tender plant was protected in its obscurity from the attention of external elements, it has now become exposed. This exposure invites close observation, and that observation will eventually lead to opposition in various quarters. So, far from adopting a carefree attitude, the community must be conscious of the necessity to present a correct view of itself and an accurate understanding of its purpose to a largely skeptical public. A greater effort, a greater care must now be exercised to ensure its protection against the malice of the ignorant and the unwisdom of its friends."
(Compilations, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Bahá'í Communities)

References[edit]

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