Authoritative Interpretations in the Baha'i Faith:
`Abdu'l-Bahá's Initiative

By Iraj Ayman

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #100
Louhelen Bahá'í­ School: Davison, Michigan, USA
October 7–10, 2010
(see list of papers from #100)


    There are two categories of interpretations of the Writings and Teachings in the Bahá'í Faith, authoritative and individual. The former is confined to the interpretations by the Founders and then Centers of the Covenant of the Bahá'í Faith, while the latter is the interpretation and understanding that each individual arrives at through personal study of and contemplation about the Writings and teachings of the Faith. A closely related area is the translation of the Writings from the original texts into other languages. This due to the fact that translating a text is actually a kind of understanding and interpreting that text. Thus, again we have two categories, authoritative or formal translations issued by the Center of the Faith and informal or individual translations by various institutions or individuals.

    Throughout the history of religions interpretation of the texts has been, and even nowadays is, the cause of dissension, division, sectarianism, conflicts, persecution, and a host of harmful actions. Bahá'u'lláh has revealed basic principles which save the community from sectarianism and protects and preserves its unity. However, it was the initiative taken by `Abdu'l-Bahá that changed the direction of interpretation of the texts and teachings and opened a new path that makes interpretation a source of unity and accord in the community. This fundamental reorientation of the direction of interpretation (and translation) has been further elucidated and consolidated by the guidance given by Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice. In this respect what needs to be clarified are the attempts of certain individuals who have tried to use their own interpretation for forming their own versions of Bahá'í religion and have tried to form various splintered groups.

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