Bahá'í literature

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Bahá'í literature, like much religious text, covers a variety of topics and forms, including scripture and inspiration, interpretation, history and biography, introduction and study materials, and apologia. Sometimes considerable overlap can be observed in a particular text.

The 'canonical texts' are the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, and the authenticated talks of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá. The writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh are considered as divine revelation, the writings and talks of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá and the writings of Shoghi Effendi as authoritative interpretation, and those of the Universal House of Justice as authoritative legislation and elucidation. Some measure of divine guidance is assumed for all of these texts.[1][2]

The Bahá'í Faith relies extensively on its literature. Literacy is strongly encouraged so that believers may read the texts for themselves.[3] In addition doctrinal questions are routinely addressed by returning to primary works.[2][4]

Much of the early works of the religion were in the form of letters to individuals or communities. These are termed tablets[2] and have been collected into various folios by Bahá'ís over time. Today, the Universal House of Justice still uses letters as a primary method of communication.

Literary forms[edit]

Generally speaking, the literary form of a particular book can generally be observed by noting the author and/or title.

Scripture, inspiration and interpretation[edit]

Timeline of Bahá'í writings
1844–1850 The Báb
1852–1892 Bahá’u’lláh
1892 - 1921[5] `Abdu'l-Bahá
1921–1957 Shoghi Effendi
1963–present Universal House of Justice

Bahá'ís believe that the founders of the religion, The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, received revelation directly from God. As such their works are considered divinely inspired. These works are considered to be "revealed text" or revelation.[3][6]

`Abdu'l-Bahá was appointed by Bahá'u'lláh to be his successor and was authorized by him to interpret the religion's "revealed text." The works of `Abdu'l-Bahá are therefore considered authoritative directives and interpretation, as well as part of Bahá'í scripture.[3] He, along with The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, is considered one of the "Central Figures" of the religion.[1]

Likewise Shoghi Effendi's interpretations and directives are considered authoritative, but are not considered to expand upon the "revealed text", or to be scripture.[3]

In the Bahá'í view, the Universal House of Justice does not have the position to interpret the founders' works, nor those of `Abdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi. However, it is charged with addressing any question not addressed in those works.[7] As such its directives are considered authoritative,[3] as long as they are in force (the Universal House of Justice may alter or revoke its own earlier decisions as needed),[7] and are often collected into compilations or folios.

The works of the Central Figures, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice taken together are the canonical texts of the Baha'i Faith.[1]


A special category of works consist of the prayers of the Central Figures. These were often included in original letters and have been collected into various prayer books. Bahá'u'lláh's Prayers and Meditations is a significant volume. As Bahá'ís are to pray, meditate, and study sacred scripture daily, these books are common.[8]

History and biography[edit]

Shoghi Effendi's only book, God Passes By, is a central text covering the history of the faith from 1844 to 1944.[9] Nabil-Zarandi's Dawn Breakers covers the Bábí period extensively through to Bahá'u'lláh's banishment from Persia in 1853.[10]

Ruhiyyih Rabbani's Ministry of the Custodians details the interregnum between Shoghi Effendi's death in 1957 and the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963.[11]

Other authors have revisited the early periods of the religion in the Middle East or addressed historical periods in other places. Some of these contain significant amounts of biographical data and can be considered biographies.[3] Notably, Balyuzi's and Taherzadeh's works have focused on the history and biographies of the central figures of the religion and their significant contemporaries.[12]

Introduction and study materials[edit]

One of the earliest introductory texts available in English is Esslemont's Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era. This book, originally published in 1923, has undergone several revisions over time to update, correct, and clarify its contents[13] though `Abdu'l-Bahá was able to personally review several of its chapters.[14] More than sixty years later, it remains in the top ten of cited Bahá'í books.[15]

Several other introductory texts are available. Hatcher & Martin's The Bahá'í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion, Momen's A Short Introduction to the Bahá'í Faith, and Smith's The Bahá'í Religion are some examples.

Of considerable importance to the Bahá'í community worldwide is the Ruhi series of study materials inspired, and largely produced, by the Bahá'í community of Colombia. These books form the core texts used in "Study Circles" and "Training Institutes" by Bahá'í communities around the world.[16]

Apologia[edit]

A few of Bahá'u'lláh's works may classify as apologia. In addition to being significant doctrinal works, his Kitáb-i-Íqán (Book of Certitude) and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf address both Islamic and Bahá'í audiences.[17]

During Bahá'u'lláh's lifetime, both Nabíl-i-Akbar and Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl Gulpáygání were noteworthy Shi'a scholars who accepted the religion. Nabíl-i-Akbar was well versed in, and wrote on Shi'a issues. Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl wrote extensively on both Christian and Shi'a apologia, most notably in his book The Brilliant Proof.[18]

While Townshend's Christ and Bahá'u'lláh may also be regarded as an apologetic response to Christian concerns, Udo Schaefer, et al.'s Making the Crooked Straight is a decidedly apologetic response to Ficicchia's polemical Der Bahá'ísmus - Religion der Zukunft? (Bahá'ísm – Religion of the future?), a book which was published and promoted by the Evangelische Zentralstrelle für Weltanschauungsfragen (Central Office of the Protestant Church for Questions of Ideology) in the 1980s.[19][20] This organization has since revoked its affiliation with Ficicchia and now recognizes the Bahá'í Faith as an important partner in inter-religious dialogue.

Revelation[edit]

'Revelation writing': The first draft of a tablet of Baha'u'llah

Bahá'u'lláh occasionally would write himself, but normally the revelation was dictated to his secretaries, whose tracts are sometimes recorded it in what has been called revelation writing, a shorthand script written with extreme speed owing to the rapidity of the utterance being transcribed. Afterwards, Bahá'u'lláh revised and approved these drafts. These revelation drafts and many other transcriptions of the writings of Bahá'u'lláh's, some of which are in his own handwriting, are kept in the International Bahá'í Archives in Haifa, Israel.[21][22]

Some large works, for example the Kitáb-i-Íqán, were revealed in a very short time, as in a night, or a few days.[23]

Volume[edit]

Bahá'u'lláh wrote many books, tablets and prayers, of which only a fraction has been translated into English until now. He revealed thousands of tablets with a total volume more than 70 times the size of the Qur'an and more than 15 times the size of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.[21][24][25] Over 7000 tablets and other works have been collected of an estimated 15,000 texts.[24][26][27] However only a relative few have been translated and catalogued.[28]

Language[edit]

Most Bahá'í literature, including all the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, was originally written in either Persian or Arabic.[3] English translations use the characteristic Bahá'í orthography developed by Shoghi Effendi to render the original names. His work was not just that of a translator, as he was also the designated interpreter of the writings,[29] and his translations are used as a standard for current translations of the Bahá'í writings.[30]

Authenticity and authority[edit]

The question of the authenticity of given texts is of great concern to Bahá'ís. As noted, they attach considerable importance to the writings of whom they consider to be authoritative figures.[1] The primary duty of the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice and the International Bahá'í Library is the collection, cataloguing, authentication, and translation of these texts.[31]

By way of comparison, "pilgrims' notes" are items, or sayings, attributed to the central figures but have not been authenticated. While these may be inspirational, these are not considered authoritative.[1][32] Some of `Abdu'l-Bahá's collected talks (e.g. `Abdu'l-Bahá in London, Paris Talks, and The Promulgation of Universal Peace.) may fall into this category, but are awaiting further authentication.[33] The Star of the West, published in the United States from 1910 to 1924, contains many pilgrim's notes and unauthenticated letters of `Abdu'l-Bahá's.

There is no Bahá'í corollary to Islamic Hadith; in fact, Bahá'ís do not consider Hadith authoritative.[2][34]

The Bahá'í community seeks to expand the body of authenticated and translated texts. The 1992 publication of the English translation of Bahá'u'lláh The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and the more recent Gems of Divine Mysteries (2002), The Summons of the Lord of Hosts (2002), and The Tabernacle of Unity (2006) are significant additions to the body of work available.

At the same time there is concerted effort to re-translate, edit, and even redact works that are not authenticated. For example, `Abdu'l-Bahá on Divine Philosophy, published in 1916, was not reprinted at the direction of Shoghi Effendi.[35] Also, early editions of Esslemont's Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era contained several passages that could not be authenticated, or were incorrect. These have been reviewed and updated in subsequent editions.[36] This practice has been criticized by observers,[37] but is considered an integral part of maintaining the integrity of the texts.[38][39][40]

Bábí texts are proving very difficult to authenticate, despite the collection of a variety of documents by E.G. Browne in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.[41] Browne's principal correspondents were Azalis[42][43] whom he considered to be the genuine followers of the Báb. In addition to the difficulties of collecting documents at such a distance — Browne was at Cambridge — was the widespread Azali practice of Taqiyya (Dissimulation), or concealing one's beliefs.[44] Browne appears to have been unaware of this.[42][45] In addition to the difficulties of collecting reliable manuscripts, Azali taqiyya had the effect of rendering many early Bábí documents unreliable afterwards, as Azali Bábís would often alter and falsify Bábí teachings and history.[44][46]

In contrast, dissimulation was condemned by Bahá'u'lláh and was gradually abandoned by the early Bahá'ís.[44][47][48][49]

Select bibliography[edit]

The below list is not complete. William P. Collins, in his Bibliography of English-language Works on the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths, 1844–1985,[50] gives a list of 2,819 items, which includes multiple editions.[3]

For ease, the bibliography is sub-divided by author.

Authoritative[edit]

`Abdu'l-Bahá[edit]

    • Many of the above are collections but there are estimated to be over 15,000 texts archived, and over 30,000 possibly written in total.[24][26][27]

Báb, The[edit]

Bahá'u'lláh[edit]

    • Over 7000 tablets and other works have been collected of an estimated 15,000 texts.[24][26][27] However only a relative few have been translated and catalogued.[28]

Central Figures: prayer books[edit]

  • The Báb; Bahá'u'lláh & `Abdu'l-Bahá (1996). Bahá'í Daybook: Passages for Deepening and Meditation. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-154-X. 
  • The Báb; Bahá'u'lláh & `Abdu'l-Bahá (2003). Fountains of Love: A Selection of Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, The Báb, and `Abdu'l-Bahá. Germany: Bahá'í Verlag GmbH. ISBN 3-87037-397-0. 
  • The Báb; Bahá'u'lláh & `Abdu'l-Bahá (2000). Remembrance of God: A Selection of Bahá'í Prayers and Holy Writings. New Delhi, India: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 81-85091-64-1. 

Central Figures and Shoghi Effendi: compilations[edit]

The Universal House of Justice has prepared several compilations of extracts from the Central Figures and Shoghi Effendi.

Shoghi Effendi[edit]

  • Effendi, Shoghi (2009). Dear Co-worker - Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the Benelux countries. Leuven, Belgium: Brillant Books. p. 164. 

Universal House of Justice and its agencies[edit]

These are original works of the Universal House of Justice and its agencies as distinct from compilations.

Other authors[edit]

Words from Baha'ullah

Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl Gulpáygání[edit]

Balyuzi, H.M.[edit]

Bahiyyih Khánum[edit]

Esslemont, J.E.[edit]

Momen, Moojan[edit]

  • Momen, M. (ed.) (1981). The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, 1844-1944 - Some Contemporary Western Accounts. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-102-7. 
  • Momen, M. (2007). Bahá'u'lláh: A Short Biography. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 978-1-85168-469-4. 
  • Momen, M. (1994). Buddhism and the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-384-4. 
  • Momen, M. (2000). Islam and the Bahá'í Faith, An Introduction to the Bahá'í Faith for Muslims. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-446-8. 

Re-issued in 2008 as

  • Moojan Momen. (2008). The Bahá'í Faith: A Beginner's Guide. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 978-1-85168-563-9. 

Nabíl-i-Zarandí[edit]

Rabbani, Rúhíyyih[edit]

Schaefer, Udo[edit]

Sears, William[edit]

Smith, Peter[edit]

  • Smith, P. (1999). The Bahá'í Faith: A Short History. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1-85168-208-2. 
  • Smith, P. (1988). The Bahá'í Religion, A Short Introduction to its History and Teachings. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-277-5. 

Stockman, Robert H.[edit]

Taherzadeh, Adib[edit]

Townshend, George[edit]

Various[edit]

  • Afroukhteh, Dr. Youness (2003) [1952]. Memories of Nine Years in 'Akká. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-477-8. 
  • Braun, E.; Chance, H. (1982). A Crown of Beauty, The Bahá'í Faith and the Holy Land. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-139-6. 
  • Cameron, G.; Momen, W. (1996). A Basic Bahá'í Chronology. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-404-2. 
  • Hatcher, J.S. (1997). The Ocean of His Words: A Reader's Guide to the Art of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-259-7. 
  • Hofman, D. (1982). Commentary on the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-158-2. 
  • Momen, W. (1989). A Basic Bahá'í Dictionary. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-231-7. 
  • Momen, Wendy; Momen, Moojan (2006). Whaling, Frank, ed. Understanding the Baha'i Faith. Understanding Faith. Edinburg, UK: Dunedin Academic Press. ISBN 1-903765-50-1. ISSN 1744-5833. 
  • Ruhe-Schoen, J. (1998). A Love Which Does Not Wait. Riviera Beach, Florida, USA: Palabra Publications. ISBN 1-890101-17-6. 
  • Walbridge, John (1996). Sacred Acts, Sacred Space, Sacred Time. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-406-9. 
  • Whitmore, B. (1984). The Dawning Place. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-192-2. .

Periodicals[edit]

News[edit]

Pre-youth/Children[edit]

  • Brilliant Star A Baha’i Companion for Young Explorers (Formerly Child's Way) (Published since 1989) in the United States Online Website
  • Dayspring Magazine, published by the UK National Assembly.[51]
  • Varqá - International Children's Magazine (published 1970-1986 and 2004–present)

Scholarly[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Smith 1999, pp. 100–101
  2. ^ a b c d Schaefer 2007, p. 7
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Smith 1999, p. 227
  4. ^ Smith 1999, pp. 115–116
  5. ^ Smith 2000, p. 20 The majority of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s writings are from the period 1892–1921, while a few have an earlier date: Secret of Divine Civilization (1875), A Traveller’s Narrative (1886) and his commentary on ‘I was a Hidden Treasure’.
  6. ^ Smith 1999, p. 294
  7. ^ a b Smith 1999, pp. 346–350
  8. ^ Smith 1999, pp. 274–275
  9. ^ Smith 1999, pp. 318–318
  10. ^ Smith 1999, p. 118
  11. ^ Smith 1999, p. 117
  12. ^ Smith 1999, pp. 89–90
  13. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1996-06-02). Prophecy of Daniel; Modifications of Baha'u'llah and the New Era. 
  14. ^ "J. E. Esslemont - Named a Hand of the Cause at His Passing". Bahá'í News (15): p. 6–8. June 1973. 
  15. ^ Fazel, Seena; Danes, John (1995). "Bahá'í scholarship: an examination using citation analysis". Bahá'í Studies Review 5 (1).  , Table 4: Most cited Bahá'í books, 1988-1993.
  16. ^ Bahá'í International Community. "Collaborative Study for Individual and Social Transformation". Retrieved 2006-12-04. 
  17. ^ Smith 1999, pp. 40, 133
  18. ^ Smith 1999, pp. 22–23, 258–258
  19. ^ Fazel, S. (2004). "Making the Crooked Straight, by Udo Schaefer, Nicola Towfigh, and Ulrich Gollmer: Review". Interreligious Insight 2 (1): 96. 
  20. ^ Cannuyer, C. (1998). "Making the Crooked Straight, by Udo Schaefer, Nicola Towfigh, and Ulrich Gollmer: Review". Baha'i Studies Review 8 (1). 
  21. ^ a b BWNS. "A new volume of Bahá'í sacred writings, recently translated and comprising Bahá'u'lláh's call to world leaders, is published". Retrieved 2006-11-24. 
  22. ^ Taherzadeh, A. (1976). The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, Volume 1: Baghdad 1853-63. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-270-8. 
  23. ^ "Book of Certitude: Dating the Iqan". Kalimat Press. 1995. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  24. ^ a b c d Archives Office at the Bahá'í World Centre, Haifa, Israel. "Bahá'í Archives - Preserving and safeguarding the Sacred Texts". Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  25. ^ Universal House of Justice. "Numbers and Classifications of Sacred Writings texts". Retrieved 2006-11-24. 
  26. ^ a b c The Universal House of Justice. "Numbers and Classifications of Sacred Writings texts". Retrieved 2006-12-04. 
  27. ^ a b c Stockman, R. and Cole, J. "Number of tablets revealed by Bahá'u'lláh". Retrieved 2006-12-04. 
  28. ^ a b McGlinn, S. (1999). "The Leiden list of the works of Baha'u'llah". Retrieved 2006-12-04. 
  29. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá (1992) [1901-08]. The Will And Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. p. 11.  & Effendi, Shoghi (1938). The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. pp. 148–149. 
  30. ^ Bahá'u'lláh (2002). The Summons of the Lord of Hosts. 
  31. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1997-08-06). "Questions about Aspects of the Bahá'í Teachings". Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  32. ^ The Universal House of Justice (2003-07-14). "Utterances and Tablets of `Abdu'l-Bahá Quoted in Compilations and Letters of the Universal House of Justice". Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  33. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1996-10-22). "Authenticity of Some Bahá'í Texts". Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  34. ^ Smith 1999, p. 307
  35. ^ "Opening notes to the online edition of `Abdu'l-Bahá on Divine Philosophy". Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  36. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1973). 49: Daniel, the prophecy of. p. 18. 
  37. ^ Beckwith 1985, pp. 37–38.
  38. ^ The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States (1992-09-24). "Dates in Baha'u'llah and the New Era: A response to Francis Beckwith". Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  39. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1995-06-25). "Beckwith's allegations". Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  40. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1999-05-04). "Access to materials at the Bahá'í World Centre". Retrieved 2006-12-25. 
  41. ^ MacEoin, D.; Smith, P. (ed.) (1986). "Hierarchy, Authority and Eschatology in Early Bábí Thought". In Iran: Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History (Los Angeles, USA: Kalimát Press) 3: pp. 95–97. ISBN 0-933770-46-4. Retrieved 2006-12-25. 
  42. ^ a b "Browne, Edward Granville ii. Browne on Babism and Bahaism". Encyclopaedia Iranica Online 4. 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-06. 
  43. ^ Balyuzi 1970, pp. 18, 34, 72, 96.
  44. ^ a b c Manuchehri, Sepehr (September 1999). "The Practice of Taqiyyah (Dissimulation)". Research Notes in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Studies 3 (3). Archived from the original on 2 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  45. ^ Balyuzi 1970, p. 70.
  46. ^ For example, the problems with the version of the Nuqtatu'l-Kaf translated and published in 1910 by E.G. Browne are noted by MacEoin (MacEoin, D. (1986). "Hierarchy, Authority and Eschatology in Early Bábí Thought". In Iran: Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History 3: pp. 106–107. ), and addressed by Balyuzi (Balyuzi 1970, pp. 70–88) and Cole (Cole, J. (August 1998). "Nuqtat al-Kaf and the Babi Chronicle Traditions". Research Notes in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Studies 2 (6): pp. 106–107. ) who notes that material on Subh-i-Azal (Mirza Yahya) was likely added to that manuscript in 1864.
  47. ^ Susan, Maneck (1996). "Wisdom and Dissimulation: The Use and Meaning of Hikmat in the Bahá'í Writings and History". Bahá'í Studies Review (Association for Bahá'í Studies (English-Speaking Europe)) 6. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  48. ^ Taherzadeh 1977, p. 111.
  49. ^ Taherzadeh 1987, p. 92.
  50. ^ Collins 1990, pp. 41–158.
  51. ^ Online

References[edit]

  • Smith, P. (1999). A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 

External links[edit]

These sites focus on Bahá'í texts and related documents:

These sites contain online or downloadable searchable databases of collected world religious works. English and French language versions contain extensive Bahá'í, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, and other religious texts. Large libraries of Bahá'í texts are available in other, generally European, languages:

  • Bahairesearch.com Online. Sponsored privately. Includes several European and Japanese language Bahá'í texts.
  • Holy Writings Search Engine Online. Sponsored by the Association for Bahá'í Studies, German-speaking Europe.
  • Ocean Downloadable. Sponsored privately.