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The Kitáb-i-Aqdas or Aqdas is the central book of the Baháʼí Faith written by Baháʼu'lláh, the founder of the religion, in 1873.[1] The work was written in Arabic under the Arabic title al-Kitābu l-Aqdas (Arabic: الكتاب الأقدس‎ / al-Kitāb al-ʾaqdās), but it is commonly referred to by its Persian title, Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Persian: كتاب اقدس‎ / Ketâb Âqdas), which was given to the work by Baháʼu'lláh himself. It is sometimes also referred to as "the Most Holy Book", "the Book of Laws" or the Book of Aqdas. The word Aqdas is a superlative form derived from the triconsonantal root Q-D-Š, denoting holiness or sanctity in Semitic languages.

Baháʼu'lláh had manuscript copies sent to Baháʼís in Iran some years after the revelation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in 1873, and in 1890–91 (1308 AH, 47 BE) he arranged for the publication of the original Arabic text of the book in Bombay, India.

The Aqdas is referred to as "the Mother-Book" of the Baháʼí teachings, and the "Charter of the future world civilization".[2] It is not, however, only a 'book of laws': much of the content deals with other matters, notably ethical exhortations and addresses to various individuals, groups, and places. The Aqdas also discusses the establishment of Baháʼí administrative institutions, Baháʼí religious practices, mysticism, laws of personal status, inheritance, criminal law, spiritual and ethical exhortations, social principles, miscellaneous laws and abrogations, and prophecies.

Gradual implementation[edit]

Baháʼu'lláh stated that the observance of the laws that he prescribed should be subject to "tact and wisdom", and that they do not cause "disturbance and dissension."[3][4] Baháʼu'lláh thus provided for the progressive application of his laws; for example certain Baháʼí laws are currently only applicable to Iranian Baháʼís such as the limit to the period of engagement, while any Baháʼí may practice the laws if they so decide.[3] Shoghi Effendi also stated that certain other laws, such as criminal laws, that are dependent upon the existence of a predominantly Baháʼí society would only be applicable in a possible future Baháʼí society.[3][5] He also stated that if the laws were in conflict with the civil law of the country where a Baháʼí lives the laws could not be practiced.[3] This is not always the case. For example a Bahá’í wedding cannot take place until the Baha'i Assembly of the area agrees that all requirements of both Bahá’í and civil law have been met. Furthermore, some laws and teachings are, according to Baháʼí teaching, not meant to be applied at the present time and their application depends on decisions by the Universal House of Justice. Baha'is believe the Aqdas supersedes and succeeds previous revelations such as the Quran and the Bible.[6]

Form and style[edit]

The text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas consists of several hundred verses, which have been grouped in 189 numbered paragraphs in the English translation most of which are just a few sentences.[7] The style combines elements of both poetry (shi'r) and rhymed prose (saj') and the text contains instances of literary devices like alliteration, assonance, repetition, onomatopoeia, juxtaposition and antithesis, metaphors, alternation of person and personification.[8]

Rules and principles are interspersed and guide interpretation, and authority and limits for authorized interpretation are also specified. It defines a Baháʼí Administration as part of the Covenant of Baháʼu'lláh, and also speaks to the individual reader, as there are no clergy in the religion to rely on for guidance. It must be noted that elected Baha'i Administrative bodies and the appointed Institution of Continental Board of Councilors together with their army of Auxiliary Board Members and Assistants wield more power than most clergy could ever hope to have. For example they're permitted to excommunicate critics of the Baha'i Administration and society is required to shun them completely. The text also moves between statements said to be plain and statements suggesting the key to understanding the book is to look at the text for clues to itself.[7] Some statements reflect on the teachings in the religion on various themes and underscore a relationship of the Aqdas as a 'motherhood' in relation to all the other scriptural works and they to it. It also relates to scriptures of other religions by abrogation, explanation, affirmation or reformation — an example of progressive revelation as a principle of the religion. While it is the core text on laws of the religion, it is not the exclusive source of laws in the religion, nor of Baháʼu'lláh's own writings, and complementarily the reader is told explicitly to not view the text as a "mere code of laws".[9]


1961Translation published by the Royal Asiatic Society
1973Synopsis and codification
1992Official Baháʼí translation in English

The Kitáb-i-Aqdas was completed by Baháʼu'lláh in 1873. It was published in the Arabic for circulation among Baháʼís speaking the language circa 1890.[10] A Russian translation was undertaken by Alexander Tumansky in 1899 and was his most important contribution to Baháʼí studies.[11] Around 1900 an informal English translation was made by Baháʼí Anton Haddad, which circulated among the early American Baháʼí community in a typewritten form.[12] In 1961, an English scholar of Arabic, Dr. Earl E. Elder, and William McElwee Miller, who (according to Laurence Elwell-Sutton) is an openly hostile Christian minister,[13] published an English translation, "Al-Kitab Al-Aqdas",[14] through the Royal Asiatic Society, however its translation of the notes section was problematic[15] and overall lacked "poetic sensibility, and skill in Arabic translation".[16] Indeed, Miller only ever used it to further his polemical agenda.[13] In 1973 a "Synopsis and Codification" of the book was published in English by the Universal House of Justice,[17] with 21 passages of the Aqdas that had already been translated into English by Shoghi Effendi with additional terse lists of laws and ordinances contained in the book outside of any contextual prose. Finally, in 1992, a full and authorized Baháʼí translation in English was published.[18][19] This version is used as the basis of translation into many other languages[20] highlighting the practice of an indirect translation and how the purpose of the translation affects the act of translation. The Baháʼí Library Online provides a side-by-side comparison of the authorized translation with earlier translations of Anton Haddad and Earl Elder.[21]


The Kitáb-i-Aqdas is supplemented by the

  • "Questions and Answers"', which consists of 107 questions submitted to Baháʼu'lláh by Zaynu'l-Muqarrabin concerning the application of the laws and Baháʼu'lláh's replies to those questions
  • "Some Texts Revealed by Baháʼu'lláh"
  • Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances, prepared by Shoghi Effendi
  • explanatory notes prepared by the Universal House of Justice

The book was divided into six main themes in the Synopsis and Codification by Shoghi Effendi:

  1. The appointment of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá as the successor of Baháʼu'lláh
  2. Anticipation of the Institution of the Guardianship
  3. The Institution of the Universal House of Justice
  4. Laws, Ordinances and exhortations
  5. Specific admonitions, reproofs and warnings
  6. Miscellaneous subjects

Further, the laws were divided into four categories:

A. Prayer
B. Fasting
C. Laws of personal status
D. Miscellaneous laws, ordinances and exhortations


Scholarly review finds the Aqdas has themes of laws of worship, societal relations and administrative organization, or governance, of the religion.[7] Through the authority vested in ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in the Aqdas there is an expanse of internationalism related to the law in works like The Secret of Divine Civilization and through his extended authority to Shoghi Effendi works like his World Order of Baháʼu'lláh further elaborates on the internationalism theme. This stands in some distinction from other scriptures by not using triumphal tones as the voice of God is given to be viewed but rather one of progressive development, social context, and outright delay in application until another day. Indeed, it insists that divine law is applicable only in situations with requisite conditions, where it is likely to have certain social effects. The goal of application of the law and its methods are not to cause disturbance and dissension and requires an appreciation for context and intention. Additionally one is to eschew emphasis in the development of textualist and intentionalist arguments about the law though some of this is visible in scholarship on the Aqdas. Such methods of application of law in a religious context are, in the opinion of Roshan Danish, common in Islam and Judaism.[7]

The Aqdas is understood by Baháʼís to be a factor in the process of ongoing developments in world order. This can be seen comparing the Baháʼí approach to history and the future to that of the theory of the Clash of Civilizations on the one hand and the development of a posthegemony system on the other (compared with work of Robert Cox, for example, in Approaches to World Order, (Robert Cox & Timonthy Sinclair eds, Cambridge University Press, 1996).)[7]

Certain possible sources of law are specifically abrogated: laws of the Bábí religion, notably in the Persian Bayán, oral traditions (linked with pilgrim notes, and natural law, (that is to say God's sovereign will through revelation is the independent authority.)[9] Divine revelation's law-making is both unconditioned in terms of the divine right to choose, and conditioned in the sense of the progress of history from one revelation to the next.[7][9]

Laws of personal status[edit]

Marriage and divorce[edit]

Baha'u'llah's statements about marriage in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are brief. Marriage is highly recommended but is stated to not be obligatory.[22] Baháʼu'lláh states that the maximum number of wives is two, but also states that having only one wife would add more tranquility to both partners.[23] These statements were later interpreted by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá that having a second wife is conditional upon treating both wives with justice and equality and was not possible in practice, thus establishing monogamy.[23][24][25]

That Baháʼu'lláh had three wives,[23][26] while his religion teaches monogamy, which has been the subject of criticism. The writing of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and Baháʼí teachings on gender equality and monogamy post-date Baháʼu'lláh's marriages and are understood to be evolutionary in nature, slowly leading Baháʼís away from what had been a deeply rooted cultural practice.[23][25]


The institutional status of the authority of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and a House of Justice are specifically delineated.[7][9] On the basis of the authority granted ʻAbdu'l-Bahá he extended forms of the authority vested in him to the Guardianship, whose sole member was Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal, or International, House of Justice through his Will and Testament. This was confirmed and amplified in other texts, notably the Kitáb-i-'Ahd. The Universal House of Justice is specifically empowered to write and rescind any laws it is felt necessary aside from those of the text of scripture and actual application of the laws of the Aqdas among Baháʼís are dependent on the choice of the Universal House of Justice.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Saiedi, 2000, pp. 224-235.
  2. ^ Effendi 1944, pp. 213
  3. ^ a b c d Smith, Peter (2000). "law". A concise encyclopedia of the Baháʼí Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 223–225. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
  4. ^ Baháʼu'lláh 1873, p. 6
  5. ^ Smith 2008, pp. 160
  6. ^ The Aqdas; Universal House of Justice A DESCRIPTION OF THE AQDAS BY SHOGHI EFFENDI
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Danesh, Roshan (2003–2004). "Internationalism and Divine Law: A Baháʼí Perspective". Journal of Law and Religion. 19 (2): 209–242. doi:10.2307/3649175. JSTOR 3649175.
  8. ^ Bushrui 1994, pp. 39–53
  9. ^ a b c d e Schaefer, Udo (2002–2003). "An Introduction to Baha'i Law: Doctrinal Foundations, Principles and Structures". Journal of Law and Religion. 18 (2): 307–372. doi:10.2307/1602268. JSTOR 1602268.
  10. ^ Christopher Buck (1 January 1995). Symbol & Secret. Kalimat Press. pp. 19, 26–27. ISBN 978-0-933770-80-5.
  11. ^ Jahangir Dorri (15 August 2009). "TUMANSKIǏ, Aleksandr Grigor'evich". Encyclopedia Iranica. online. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  12. ^ Loni Bramson-Lerche (1988). "Establishment of the Guardianship". In Moojan Momen (ed.). Studies in the Bábí & Baháʼí Religions. Kalimat Press. p. 282. ISBN 978-0-933770-72-0.
  13. ^ a b Elwell-Sutton, L.P. (1976). "Review of "The Baha'i Faith" Its History and Teaching by William McElwee Miller". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (2): 157–158. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00133416. JSTOR 25203713.
  14. ^ Bahā'-Allāh (1961) [1873]. Al-kitab al-aqdas or The most holy book. Translated by Elder, Earl E.; Miller, William McE. London: The Royal Asiatic Society.
  15. ^ A. Bausani (9 August 2011). "AQDAS". Encyclopedia Iranica. online. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  16. ^ Lawson, Todd (Winter–Spring 1996). "Review of: The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book by Baha'Allah, Haifa: Baha'i World Center, 1992". Iranian Studies. 29 (1–2): 207–209. doi:10.1080/00210869608701848. JSTOR 4310986.
  17. ^ Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas by Baháʼu'lláh and Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i World Center, 1973
  18. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). "Aqdas, Kitáb-i-". A concise encyclopedia of the Baháʼí Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 43–44. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
  19. ^ See also the Kitab-i-Aqdas Multilinear Translation project.
  20. ^ Nobel Perdu Honeyman (27 January 2005). "From Arabic to other languages through English". In Albert Branchadell; Lovell Margaret West (eds.). Less Translated Languages. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 67–74. ISBN 978-90-272-9478-4.
  21. ^ Baháʼu'lláh. Winters, Jonah (ed.). "Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Most Holy Book): "Multilinear" Translation project and Glossary". Baháʼí Library Online. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  22. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). "marriage". A concise encyclopedia of the Baháʼí Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 232–234. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
  23. ^ a b c d Smith, Peter (2000). "Polygamy". A concise encyclopedia of the Baháʼí Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 273. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
  24. ^ Smith, Peter (2008). An Introduction to the Baha'i Faith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-521-86251-6.
  25. ^ a b Schaefer, Udo (2002–2003). "An Introduction to Baha'i Law: Doctrinal Foundations, Principles and Structures". Journal of Law and Religion. 18 (2): 321, 333. doi:10.2307/1602268. JSTOR 1602268.
  26. ^ Smith 2008, pp. 16


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]