Baháʼí orthography

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Texts of the Baháʼí Faith use a standard system of orthography to romanize Persian and Arabic script. The system used in Baháʼí literature was set in 1923, and although it was based on a commonly used standard of the time, it has its own embellishments that make it unique.

Shoghi Effendi, head of the religion from 1921 to 1957, created the system of Baháʼí orthography and shared a list of examples of common terms with Baháʼís around the world in several letters in 1923.[1] The stated need for standardized transliteration was to "avoid confusion in future, and insure in this matter a uniformity which is greatly needed at present in all Baháʼí literature."[2] According to the standard, the most common terms are "Baháʼí," "Baháʼís," "Báb," "Baháʼu'lláh," and "ʻAbdu'l-Bahá," using accent marks to distinguish long vowels, and raised turned vs raised commas to distinguish ayin and hamza, respectively.[3]

Since the Baháʼís adopted their system, Middle Eastern scholars have modified the standard academic system adopted in 1894 in various ways, and have created a separate, related system for writing Persian (a principal change being use of e and o). The Baháʼí system, however, has now been used to print thousands of books and pamphlets in many languages, hence modifying it would create confusion and force authors to use two different spelling systems (one in passages being quoted exactly, the other in the rest of the text).


Western Baháʼís in the lifetime of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá used a variety of transliterations from Arabic. For example, Baháʼu'lláh – the Faith's founder, was written in a variety of spellings. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in 1906 instructed to write the term Bahaʼo'llah, and later in 1921 requested that it be written Baha ʼUllah.[4]

The Baháʼí transliteration scheme that Shoghi Effendi adopted was based on a standard adopted by the Tenth International Congress of Orientalists which took place in Geneva in September 1894.[4][5] Shoghi Effendi changed some details of the Congress's system, most notably in the use of digraphs in certain cases (e.g. ⟨s͟h⟩ instead of ⟨š⟩), and in incorporating the solar letters when writing the definite article al- (Arabic: ال‎) according to pronunciation (e.g. ar-Raḥím, aṣ-Ṣaddíq, instead of al-Raḥím, al-Ṣaddíq).[4] He also introduced certain spelling variations that reflect Persian pronunciation (e.g. ⟨v⟩ instead of ⟨w⟩), specifically an Isfahani accent (e.g. ⟨Mihdí⟩ instead of ⟨Mahdí⟩).[4]

A list of frequently used words using the new system was first shared in 1923 and later published in The Baháʼí Yearbook of 1926.[4] Minor updates were published in The Baháʼí World volumes III (1930)[6] and VII (1939).[7] The system has been widely adopted by Baháʼí publishers.[8] The underdots, underscores, and sometimes the accents are frequently omitted online and in less formal writing due to the difficulty in rendering text.[8]

Perso-Arabic script[edit]

Letter Arabic Name Persian Name Transliteration[9] Value (IPA) [a]
ا ʼalif ʼalef á, a [aː], [a] (Arabic); [ɒː], [æ] (Persian)
ب báʼ b [b]
پ p [p] (Persian)
ت táʼ t [t]
ث t͟háʼ t͟h [c] [θ] (Arabic); [s] (Persian)
ج jím jím j [d͡ʒ]
چ c͟hé c͟h [t͡ʃ] (Persian)
ح ḥáʼ [ħ] (Arabic); [h] (Persian)
خ k͟háʼ k͟hé k͟h [x]
د dál dál d [d]
ذ d͟hál zál d͟h [ð] (Arabic); [z] (Persian)
ر ráʼ r [r]
ز záy z [z]
ژ z͟hé z͟h [ʒ] (Persian)
س sín sín s [s]
ش s͟hín s͟hín s͟h [ʃ]
ص ṣád sád [] (Arabic); [s] (Persian)
ض ḍád zád [] (Arabic); [z] (Persian)
ط ṭáʼ [] (Arabic); [t] (Persian)
ظ ẓáʼ [ðˤ] (Arabic); [z] (Persian)
ع ʻayn ʼayn ʻ [d] [ʕ] (Arabic); [ʔ] (Persian)
غ g͟hayn qayn g͟h [ɣ] (Arabic); [ɢ]~[ɣ] (Persian)
ف fáʼ f [f]
ق qáf qáf q [q] (Arabic); [ɢ]~[ɣ] (Persian)
ک (Persian)
káf káf k [k]
گ gáf g [ɡ] (Persian)
ل lám lám l [l]
م mím mím m [m]
ن nún nún n [n]
و wáw váv ú, v [uː]; [w] (Arabic); [v] (Persian)
ه háʼ h [h]
ي [b]
ی (Persian)
yáʼ í, y [iː], [j]
ء hamzah hamzé ʼ [d] [ʔ]
  • ^a Real phonetic values of Arabic vary regionally and the table mostly demonstrates the abstract Arabic phonemes.
  • ^b In Persian, the final form of the letter is written undotted.
  • ^c The Unicode character for the underline, 'combining double macron below', is U+35F (decimal U+863). It can be written as hex &#x35F; or decimal &#863;, or with the template {{underscore}}. HTML underlining (i.e., <u>...</u>) should not be used, as it's not copy-safe.
  • ^d The Unicode character for the ʻayin, the 6-like 'combining letter turned comma', is U+2BB (decimal U+699), and the character for hamza, the 9-like 'combining letter apostrophe', is U+2BC (decimal U+700). They can be written as &#x2BB; and &#x2BC; (decimal &#699; and &#700;), or with the templates {{okina}} and {{hamza}}.

Comparison to common Latinizations[edit]

The Baháʼí transliteration can often differ markedly from versions commonly in use in English.

Baháʼí Orthography Common English Representation Persian pronunciation Arabic pronunciation Perso-Arabic Spelling
Ád͟hirbáyján[10] Azerbaijan [ɒzeɾbɒːjˈdʒɒːn] [ʔæðeɾbiːˈdʒæːn] آذربایجان
Fáṭimih[11] Fatima [fɒːteˈme] [fɑːˈtˤɪmæ, ˈfɑːtˤɪmæ] فاطمه
S͟hog͟hí[12] Shawki [ˈʃoːɣi] [ˈʃæwʔi, ˈʃɑwqi] شوقی
Siyyid[13] Sayyid [sejˈjed] [ˈsæjjɪd] سید

While the accent and phonemic diacritic marks in the word "Baháʼí" indicate a three syllable pronunciation as [bæhɒːˈʔiː], the official pronunciation guide of the Baháʼí World News Service gives a two syllable pronunciation of "ba-HIGH" /bəˈh/ for English.[14][failed verificationsee discussion] The realization of the English pronunciation varies. The Oxford English Dictionary has /bæˈhɑː/ ba-HAH-ee, Merriam-Webster has /bɑːˈhɑː/ bah-HAH-ee (reflecting in the first syllable the difference between the UK and the US with the 'pasta' vowel), and the Random House Dictionary has /bəˈhɑː/ bə-HAH-ee, all with three syllables.[15]


  1. ^ See letters of 12 March 1923, 9 April 1923, and 26 November 1923, published in Effendi 1974.
  2. ^ Effendi 1974, p. 43.
  3. ^ The apostrophe and the two apostrophe-like letters are distinguished in the name ʻAbdu'l-Baháʼ. All three are typically ignored when speaking in English, but reflect different pronunciations in Arabic and Persian (Winters 2002).
  4. ^ a b c d e Momen 1991.
  5. ^ Plunkett, G. T. (1894). Report of the Transliteration Committee. Tenth International Congress of Orientalists. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Geneva. pp. 879–892. JSTOR 25207765.
  6. ^ World 1930, pp. 256–257.
  7. ^ World 1939, pp. 614–615.
  8. ^ a b Jonah Winters, 2002, Diacritics and transliteration
  9. ^ Marzieh Gail, Guide to Transliteration and Pronunciation of the Persian Alphabet: together with the Numerical Value of the letters (Abjad Reckoning). Published in Baháʼí Glossary, Wilmette, IL: Bahaʼi Publishing Trust, 1957
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-05-01. Retrieved 2016-05-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-04-12. Retrieved 2016-05-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-04-12. Retrieved 2016-05-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-04-12. Retrieved 2016-05-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Style guide, glossary and pronunciation guide | Bahá'í World News Service (BWNS)". Bahá’í World News Service.
  15. ^ See Banani, Amin, A Bahaʼi Glossary and Pronunciation Guide (MP3), Baháʼí Study and Shahrokh, Darius, "Windows to the Past Series", Baháʼí Library – A Guide to Pronunciation part 1 and 2, for more pronunciation instructions.


  • Effendi, Shoghi (1974) [first published in 1928]. Baháʼí Administration. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-166-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Momen, Moojan (1991). "Transliteration". Baháʼí Library Online. Retrieved 2019-11-20.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • The Baháʼí World, III, Wilmette, Illinois: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1930 [Reprinted 1980]
  • The Baháʼí World, VII, Wilmette, Illinois: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1939 [Reprinted 1980]

External links[edit]