Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Themes in the Study of Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-I-Aqdas: Emerging Approaches to Scholarship on Bahá'í Law

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Themes in the Study of Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-I-Aqdas: Emerging Approaches to Scholarship on Bahá'í Law

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The year 2017 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of the authorized translation from Arabic into English-and subsequently into other languages-of the full text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book), the central book of scripture of the Bahá'í Faith.1 Prior to 1992, the full text was accessible only to those who read Arabic or through a few translations of questionable quality that were generally not used by members of the Bahá'í community.2

Written while Bahá'u'lláh was in exile in Palestine in 1873, the Kitábi- Aqdas is a relatively short work comprised of 190 paragraphs in its English translation. Known as the "Mother Book" of the Bahá'í Faith, it is also routinely referred to as Bahá'u'lláh's "book of laws" because it discusses the nature and concept of law and provides some of the foundational laws of the Bahá'í Faith.3

The release of the authorized translation in 1992 was a marked shiftin access and availability of the Kitábi- Aqdas to adherents of the Bahá'í Faith, as well as to scholars and the general public. While portions of the work had been the subject of authorized translation by Shoghi Effendi and a synopsis and codification of the work had been available since 1973, studying excerpts and summaries is significantly different than studying a work of scripture as a whole.

It is worth reflecting on how the Kitáb-i-Aqdas has been studied and commented on over the past twenty- five years, what trends have emerged in scholarship, and what patterns might occur in the future study of the work. In this paper, an examination of the English-language emerging scholarship on the Kitáb-i-Aqdas provides a window into contemporary approaches to the academic study of the Bahá'í Faith, as well as into the first wave of scholarly writing on a tradition of religious legal scholarship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a predominant observation is how dependent this nascent English-language scholarship is on importing constructs from the study of other religious systems-in particular Islam-as well as making relatively unexamined assumptions about the meaning of law in the Bahá'í context that may actually be in tension with indigenous elements of primary Bahá'í legal texts.

THEMES IN THE STUDY OF THE KITÁB-I-AQDAS

The publication of the translation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in 1992 was accompanied by a significant sense of anticipation within the Bahá'í community. The central Bahá'í governing institution, the Universal House of Justice, drew a direct correlation between the accessibility of the text and the evolution of the Bahá'í community itself:

The accessibility to Western readers of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in full authorized text, for the first time in one of their major languages, enormously extends the sphere of its influence, opening wider the door to a vast process of individual and community development which must certainly exert an increasingly powerful, transformative effect on peoples and nations as the Book is translated further into other languages. (Letter dated 5 March 1993)

The Universal House of Justice also emphasized the unique status of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas within the canon of Bahá'u'lláh's writings:

A Book of such indescribable holiness is itself a symbol of the incomparable greatness of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh and is, indeed, a potent reminder of the high respect which is due to all that has flowed from His prodigious, truth-bearing pen. May the friends of God ever be mindful of its exalted rank among the sacred texts of the Faith; treasure it as the bread of life; regard possession of it as a sacred honor, as a priceless legacy from the Pen of the Most High, as a source of God's greatest bounty to His creatures; place their whole trust in its provisions; recite its verses; study its contents; adhere to its exhortations; and thus transform their lives in accordance with the divine standard. (Letter dated 5 March 1993)

At various levels within the Bahá'í community, the release of the translation was accompanied by dialogue and study. …

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