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

By Iraj Ayman

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #97
Centre for Bahá'í­ Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 3–6, 2010
(see list of papers from #97)


    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 later is the interpretation and understanding of that each individual arrives at through personal study and contemplation in 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 protect 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 that 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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