The History of Writing and Transmission of the Kitab-i-Aqdas

By Moojan Momen

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #4
DePoort, Netherlands
November 4–6, 1994
(see list of papers from #4)

    No Manifestation of God comes into a vacuum. Baháíuílláh came into the social setting of Iran. Most of his followers were Iranians who had entered the new religion from a background of Shi'i Islam. Inevitably, Shi'i Islam colored the views of his disciples and influenced the sort of questions that were asked of him.

    Bahá'u'lláhís claim to be an independent Manifestation of God was openly announced from Edirne in about 1866 and was accepted over the next few years by the majority of the Bábís. In the Aqdas (198), Bahá'u'lláh indicates that one of the questions asked him by his correspondents concerned the laws of the new religion which he was to establish. The Islamic view of religion is a very legalistic one-to be a Muslim means to follow the Holy Law of Islam-while to be a Christian is more a matter of what beliefs one has, i.e. what creed one follows. One is not therefore surprised that on joining a new religion, these early Bábís wanted to know not what they should believe--as a Christian might have wanted to know-but what the new Holy Law was to be. It is interesting to note that Bahá'u'lláh states that it was as a "consequence" of these enquiries that the Aqdas was revealed (Aqdas 198). Bahá'u'lláh is however evidently anxious to differentiate the Aqdas from the Holy Law in Islam and Judaism by stating that it is not a "mere code of laws" (Aq. 15).

    In a section of quotations relating to the revelation of the Aqdas Fádil Mázandarání gives a number of quotations that indicate that Bahá'u'lláh began to reveal some laws in Persian as early as the Edirne period but that he had not found the time appropriate then to release these (Amr va Khalq 1: 10). There are indications in these passages cited by Mázandarání that Baháíuílláh had begun to reveal parts at least of the Aqdas from the first years of his arrival in 'Akká (or perhaps even the very last year in Edirne) and that the process of revelation was complete by 1873 (Ekbal, "Kitáb-i-Aqdas: Redating its Beginnings"). In one tablet written through Mírzá Aqá Ján Khádimu'lláh, probably addressed to the Hand of the Cause Mírzá 'Alf-Akbar Shahmírzádí Hájí Akhund and dated 15 Jamadi 1 1290 (10 July 1873), Bahá'u'lláh states that he has given permission for Jamál Burujirdí to take a copy of the Aqdas and he hopes that Hájí Akhund will see this and will try, with prudence, to implement its provisions. From this it would appear that Burújirdi was responsible for bringing the first copy of the Aqdas to Iran.

    From this time onwards, we hear of the distribution of the Aqdas in Iran and of various attempts to implement its provisions. For example, Sayyid Asadu'lláh Isfahání relates that, in about 1294/1877, attempts were made to set tip a House of Justice in Tehran in accordance with the provisions of the Aqdas. As there are no instructions in the book regarding the establishment of this institution, however, they merely called together an ad hoc group of prominent Bahá'ís and called it the Assembly of Consultation (majlis-i-shawr) and the house in which they met the House of Justice. They consulted about the affairs of the community but they were a self-appointed body and even kept their existence a secret from the main body of the Bahá'ís (presumably for security). (R. Mehrabkhani, "Mahifil-ishawr dar 'Ahd-i-Jamál-i-Aqdas-i-Abhá" Payám-i-Bahá, 28 February 1982, pp. 9-11; 29 March 1982, pp. 8-9). Other evidence of the early implementation of the provisions of the Aqdas in Iran is the nomination in 1878 of Sháh Muhammad Manshidi as Trustee of the Huqúqu'lláh.

    Manuscript copies circulated in Iran in large numbers. E.G. Browne had no difficulty acquiring a copy in Iran in 1888 and many other manuscripts exist from the time of Bahá'u'lláh, including one in the handwriting of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (see frontispiece of RB3). 'Abdu'l-Bahá himself indicated the accurate text of the book is the one transcribed by Zaynu'l-Muqarrabin (q.v., AVK 1: 11).

    The Kitáb-i-Aqdas was first published in Bombay in 1308/1891 on the instructions of Bahá'u'lláh. This volume contained other tablets as well and was in the handwriting of Mírzá Muhammad-'Alf. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has stated that Mimi Muhammad-'Alf interfered with the text of this edition. There have been several other editions published in Bombay, Cairo, and Tehran, containing several other important Arabic tablets.

    The most important of the non-Baháíí editions of the Aqdas is that published with a Russian translation by Alexander Tumanski, Kitabe Akdes (Zapiski Imperatorskoy Academii Nauk S. Peterburg [Memoires de L'Academie Imperiale des Sciences de St Petersbourg] 8th ser., Vol. 3, No. 6, 1899), which was prepared with the help of Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl GuIpáygání. Other non-Baháíí editions include: Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ed. Kh. A. Enayat (1st ed.; Baghdad: Maktabatu'l-Amrikiniyyah, 1349/1931); and as a supplement in 'Abdu'r-Razzáq al-Hasaní, Al-Bábíyün wa'l-Bahá'íyún (Sidon, 1957, pp. 150-72).

    The earliest translation was the above mentioned one by Toumansky. An English translation by Anton Haddad was never published though it enjoyed considerable circulation in typescript in the early American community and is still occasionally found. A translation by the American Protestant missionaries, Earl E. Elder and William McE. Miller, was published by the Royal Asiatic Society in 1961 (Al-Kitáb al-Aqdas or the Most Holy Book, London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1961, p. 74.) and was reprinted in Miller, The Baháíí Faith.

    Shoghi Effendi translated most of the passages of general interest, comprising perhaps a third of the whole in works such as Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and Promised Day is Come (see SCK 11-28). A number of short passages were later translated under the auspices of the Universal House of Justice. A Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas was published in 1973 in fulfillment of a goal of the Nine Year Plan. This work contains all the passages translated by Shoghi Effendi, a detailed outline of the contents of the Aqdas and Questions and Answers, and explanatory notes. These formed the basis of the full translation published by the Universal House of Justice in 1993.

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