Baháʼí literature

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Baháʼí literature covers a variety of topics and forms, including scripture and inspiration, interpretation, history and biography, introduction and study materials, and apologia. Sometimes considerable overlap between these forms can be observed in a particular text.

The "canonical texts" are the writings of the Báb, Baháʼu'lláh, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, and the authenticated talks of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. The writings of the Báb and Baháʼu'lláh are regarded as divine revelation, the writings and talks of ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼí 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]

Many of the religion's early works took the form of letters to individuals or communities. These are termed tablets[2] and have been collected into various folios by Baháʼís 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 Baháʼí writings
1844–1850 The Báb
1852–1892 Baháʼu'lláh
1892–1921[a] ʻAbdu'l-Bahá
1921–1957 Shoghi Effendi
1963–present Universal House of Justice

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

ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was appointed by Baháʼu'lláh to be his successor and was authorized by him to interpret the religion's "revealed text." The works of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá are therefore considered authoritative directives and interpretation, as well as part of Baháʼí scripture.[3] He, along with The Báb and Baháʼu'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 Baháʼí view, the Universal House of Justice does not have the position to interpret the founders' works, nor those of ʻAbdu'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. Baháʼu'lláh's Prayers and Meditations is a significant volume. As Baháʼís 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 Baháʼu'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 Baháʼu'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 ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼí books.[15]

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

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


A few of Baháʼu'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 Baháʼí audiences.[17]

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

While Townshend's Christ and Baháʼu'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 Baháʼísmus - Religion der Zukunft? (Baháʼísm – 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 Baháʼí Faith as an important partner in inter-religious dialogue.


'Revelation writing': The first draft of a tablet of Baháʼu'lláh

Baháʼu'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, Baháʼu'lláh revised and approved these drafts. These revelation drafts and many other transcriptions of the writings of Baháʼu'lláh's, some of which are in his own handwriting, are kept in the International Baháʼí 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]


Baháʼu'lláh wrote many books, tablets and prayers, of which only a fraction have so far been translated into English. He revealed thousands of tablets with a total volume more than 70 times the size of the Qurʼan and more than 15 times the size of the Bible.[21][24][25] Over 7000 tablets and other works have been collected of an estimated 15,000 texts.[24][26][27] Considering the great scope and volume of Baháʼu'lláh's writings which Bahá'ís possess, it is interesting Baháʼu'lláh's amanuensis Mírzá Áqá Ján reported that on numerous occasions (especially while in Baghdad) Baháʼu'lláh expressly ordered that hundreds of thousands of his recorded verses be "obliterated and cast into the river" as Baháʼu'lláh felt people at that time were not yet ready for them.[28] Though a small percentage of Bahá'u'lláh's original writings have been translated into English, those completed include many of his most important works.[29][30]


Most Baháʼí literature, including all the writings of Baháʼu'lláh, was originally written in either Persian or Arabic.[3] English translations use the characteristic Baháʼí 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,[31] and his translations are used as a standard for current translations of the Baháʼí writings.[32]

A style guide, available at the website, gives a glossary and pronunciation guide of names and concepts as used within the Baháʼí Faith, including,[33]

Authenticity and authority[edit]

The question of the authenticity of given texts is of great concern to Baháʼís. As noted, they attach considerable importance to the writings of those they consider to be authoritative figures.[34] The primary duty of the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice and the International Baháʼí Library is the collection, cataloguing, authentication, and translation of these texts.[35]

By way of comparison, "pilgrims' notes" are items or sayings that are attributed to the central figures but have not been authenticated. While these may be inspirational, they are not considered authoritative.[1][36] Some of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's collected talks (e.g. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in London, Paris Talks, and The Promulgation of Universal Peace) may fall into this category, but are awaiting further authentication.[37] The Star of the West, published in the United States from 1910 to 1924, contains many pilgrim's notes and unauthenticated letters of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá.

There is no Baháʼí corollary to Islamic Hadith; in fact, Baháʼís do not consider Hadith authoritative.[2][38]

The Baháʼí community seeks to expand the body of authenticated and translated texts. The 1992 publication of the English translation of Baháʼu'lláh's 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, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá on Divine Philosophy, published in 1916, was not reprinted at the direction of Shoghi Effendi.[39] Also, early editions of Esslemont's Baháʼu'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.[40] This practice has been criticized by observers,[41] but is considered an integral part of maintaining the integrity of the texts.[42][43][44]

Bábí texts are proving very difficult to authenticate, despite the collection of a variety of documents by E.G. Browne in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[45] Browne's principal correspondents were Azalis,[46][47] whom he considered to be the genuine followers of the Báb. Compounding the difficulties of collecting reliable manuscripts at such a distance – Browne was at Cambridge – was the widespread Azali practice of taqiyya (dissimulation), or concealing one's beliefs.[48] Browne appears to have been unaware of this.[46][49] Azali taqiyya rendered many early Bábí documents unreliable afterwards, as Azali Bábís would often alter and falsify Bábí teachings and history.[48][50]

In contrast, dissimulation was condemned by Baháʼu'lláh and was gradually abandoned by the early Baháʼís.[48][51][52][53]

Select bibliography[edit]

The list below is incomplete. William P. Collins, in his Bibliography of English-language Works on the Bábí and Baháʼí Faiths, 1844–1985,[54] gives a list of 2,819 items, which includes multiple editions.[3]

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





Central Figures: prayer books[edit]

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]

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 Baháʼu'lláh

Mírzá Abu'l-Faḍl Gulpáygání[edit]

Balyuzi, H.M.[edit]

Bahíyyih Khánum[edit]

Esslemont, J.E.[edit]


Rabbani, Rúhíyyih[edit]

Taherzadeh, Adib[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ The majority of ʻAbdu'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'.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d Smith 2000, pp. 100–101.
  2. ^ a b c d Schaefer 2007, p. 7.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Smith 2000, p. 227.
  4. ^ Smith 2000, pp. 115–116.
  5. ^ Smith 2000, p. 20.
  6. ^ Smith 2000, p. 294.
  7. ^ a b Smith 2000, pp. 346–350.
  8. ^ Smith 2000, pp. 274–275.
  9. ^ Smith 2000, pp. 318–318.
  10. ^ Smith 2000, p. 118.
  11. ^ Smith 2000, p. 117.
  12. ^ Smith 2000, pp. 89–90.
  13. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1996-06-02). "Prophecy of Daniel; Modifications of Baha'u'llah and the New Era". Baháʼí Library Online.
  14. ^ "J. E. Esslemont - Named a Hand of the Cause at His Passing". Baháʼí News. No. 15. June 1973. pp. 6–8.
  15. ^ Fazel, Seena; Danes, John (1995). "Baháʼí scholarship: an examination using citation analysis". Baháʼí Studies Review. 5 (1)., Table 4: Most cited Baháʼí books, 1988-1993.
  16. ^ Baháʼí International Community. "Collaborative Study for Individual and Social Transformation". Retrieved 2006-12-04.
  17. ^ Smith 2000, pp. 40, 133.
  18. ^ Smith 2000, 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". Baháʼí Studies Review. 8 (1) – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  21. ^ a b BWNS (May 2002). "A new volume of Baháʼí sacred writings, recently translated and comprising Baháʼu'lláh's call to world leaders, is published". Archived from the original on 2008-12-22. Retrieved 2006-11-24.
  22. ^ Taherzadeh, A. (1976). The Revelation of Baháʼu'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 – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  24. ^ a b c d Universal House of Justice. "Baháʼí Archives - Preserving and safeguarding the Sacred Texts". Baháʼí Library Online. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  25. ^ Universal House of Justice. "Numbers and Classifications of Sacred Writings texts". Retrieved 2006-11-24 – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  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. & Cole, J. "Number of tablets revealed by Baháʼu'lláh". Baháʼí Library Online. Retrieved 2006-12-04.
  28. ^ Shoghi Effendi. God Passes By, p. 138. Bahá'í Reference Library: Bahá'í World Centre.
  29. ^ Smith 2000, pp. 79–86.
  30. ^ a b McGlinn, S. (1999). "The Leiden list of the works of Baha'u'llah". Retrieved 2006-12-04 – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  31. ^ ʻAbdu'l-Bahá 1992, p. 11.
  32. ^ Baháʼu'lláh (2002). The Summons of the Lord of Hosts.
  33. ^ Style guide, glossary and pronunciation guide at website. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  34. ^ Smith 2000, pp. 100–101, 307.
  35. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1997-08-06). "Questions about Aspects of the Baháʼí Teachings". Retrieved 2006-12-22 – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  36. ^ The Universal House of Justice (2003-07-14). "Utterances and Tablets of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá Quoted in Compilations and Letters of the Universal House of Justice". Retrieved 2006-12-22 – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  37. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1996-10-22). "Authenticity of Some Baháʼí Texts". Retrieved 2006-12-22 – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  38. ^ Smith 2000, p. 307.
  39. ^ "Opening notes to the online edition of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá on Divine Philosophy". Retrieved 2006-12-22 – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  40. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1973). 49: Daniel, the prophecy of. p. 18.
  41. ^ Beckwith 1985, pp. 37–38.
  42. ^ The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of the United States (1992-09-24). "Dates in Baha'u'llah and the New Era: A response to Francis Beckwith". Baháʼí Library Online. Retrieved 2006-12-22.
  43. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1995-06-25). "Beckwith's allegations". Retrieved 2006-12-22.
  44. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1999-05-04). "Access to materials at the Baháʼí World Centre". Retrieved 2006-12-25 – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  45. ^ MacEoin, D. (1986). Smith, Peter (ed.). "Hierarchy, Authority and Eschatology in Early Bábí Thought". In Iran: Studies in Bábí and Baháʼí History. 3. Los Angeles, USA: Kalimát Press: 95–97. ISBN 0-933770-46-4. Retrieved 2006-12-25 – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  46. ^ a b Wickens, Cole & Ekbal 1989.
  47. ^ Balyuzi 1970, pp. 18, 34, 72, 96.
  48. ^ a b c Manuchehri 2000.
  49. ^ Balyuzi 1970, p. 70.
  50. ^ 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 Baháʼí History. 3: 106–107 – via Baháʼí Library Online.), 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): 106–107.) who notes that material on Subh-i-Azal (Mirza Yahya) was likely added to that manuscript in 1864.
  51. ^ Susan, Maneck (1996). "Wisdom and Dissimulation: The Use and Meaning of Hikmat in the Baháʼí Writings and History". Baháʼí Studies Review. 6. Association for Baháʼí Studies (English-Speaking Europe). Retrieved 2006-12-22 – via Baháʼí Library Online.
  52. ^ Taherzadeh 1977, p. 111.
  53. ^ Taherzadeh 1987, p. 92.
  54. ^ Collins 1990, pp. 41–158.
  55. ^ "Bahai News/Volume 1/Issue 1 - Bahaiworks, a library of works about the Bahá'í Faith". Bahai News. Vol. 1, no. 1. Chicago: Baháʼí News Service. 1910-03-21.
  56. ^ "Star of the West/Volume 2/Issue 1 - Bahaiworks, a library of works about the Bahá'í Faith". Star of the West. Vol. 2, no. 1. Chicago: Baháʼí News Service. 1911-03-21.
  57. ^ "Star of the West/Volume 22/Issue 1 - Bahaiworks, a library of works about the Bahá'í Faith". The Baháʼí Magazine. Vol. 22, no. 1. Washington, D.C.: National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada. April 1931.


Wickens; Cole; Ekbal (1989). "Browne, Edward Granville". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Vol. IV/5. Retrieved 2022-12-05.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

These sites focus on Baháʼí texts and related documents:

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

  • Online. Sponsored privately. Includes several European and Japanese language Baháʼí texts.
  • Ocean Downloadable. Sponsored privately.
  • Holy Writings, online version of Ocean content. Sponsored privately.