November 29, 2014

The Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas – a talk by Ali Nakhjavani, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, 1973

The Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, which the House of Justice has just published, was one of the goals of the Nine Year Plan, and this goal was carried over from the Ten Year Crusade of the beloved Guardian.

The book itself consists of four main divisions. In addition to the preface, there is an introduction written by the House of Justice which I consider to be extremely important, and I think that it should be the subject of a study by the friends. Then we have passages from the Kitab-i-Aqdas translated by Shoghi Effendi. No translations were included in this section by other translators, including the House of Justice itself, which has during the past years translated certain passages from the Aqdas and made them available to the friends. This section comprises only those passages that were translated by the Guardian at different times during his ministry. The next section is the synopsis and codification itself. Then there is a fourth section consisting of notes. These notes were written by the House of Justice; they were not originally envisaged in the original goals, and they have been given to the friends as an additional bonus. The House felt that these notes would be of interest to the friends and would help to clarify certain of the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

Now, what the Book is not is a codification of [all] the Laws of Baha'u'llah. That will have to come later. What this book is, is exactly what its title states: A Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book of Baha'u'llah. In other words, it is a codification of the contents of one Book, not of the entire subject of Baha'i laws. These are two different things -- not the same. The time will come when we will have, I am sure, a codification of [all] the laws of Baha'u'llah -- the Laws of the Baha'i Faith. That is not what is here before us.

The way the Guardian had envisaged this was to present this to the friends in the West in a gradual way, and this is how it has been done. Just to give you an idea of what the codification of the laws would involve: the Kitab-i-Aqdas will have questions and answers, and, as it happens, the questions and answers have also been added in this book [not in the same format as in the 1993 edition of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, but more like notes regarding certain of the laws]. But it is not in the title. It will have to include the Kitab-i-Aqdas; the Questions and Answers; the Tablets of Baha'u'llah -- Himself elucidating certain laws -- questions that have been put to Him; Tablets of Baha'u'llah revealing subsidiary laws and ordinances to supplement the original laws; interpretations of 'Abdu'l-Baha; interpretations by Shoghi Effendi; and, any additional explanations and annotations that would be required to make the picture complete by giving background information about certain laws that relate, say, to previous Dispensations. That bigger subject requires a lot of work and research which was not envisaged from the very beginning by the Guardian, nor was it envisaged by the House of Justice when it gave it in the Nine Year Plan -- this goal of publishing the Synopsis and Codification.

I refer [now] to the Questions and Answers. The Questions and Answers is a very interesting document. One of the Persian friends, Zaynu'l-Muqarrabin, whose biography you will find in one of the chapters of Memorials of the Faithful [p. 150, 1971 ed.], who asked questions from Baha'u'llah. Actually it was the other way round. Baha'u'llah instructed him to ask questions, and he was possibly the only believer at that time, residing in the Holy Land, who had been given this instruction by Baha'u'llah. He had revealed His Book, and He asked Jinab-i-Zayn to ask questions. And, over the several years, Jinab-i-Zayn asked these questions from Baha'u'llah. The answers were given by Baha'u'llah in the Tablets revealed in the name of Jinab-i-Zayn. Then, later on, after several years, Jinab-i-Zayn arranged all these various answers he had received from Baha'u'llah. As he knew the questions, he arranged this book as Questions and Answers by putting his questions and the replies by Baha'u'llah -- sometimes permitting certain sentences, which were in further elucidation of the first sentence -- he would just give the first sentence without the second to make the document brief. And, he presented this document to Baha'u'llah, and it was approved by Him, and then it was released to the friends, many years after the Kitab-i-Aqdas had been released to the friends and transcribed and made available to them.

In the introduction there is a very important passage that the House of Justice had quoted from the Writings of Baha'u'llah which I think is a key to the Synopsis itself: a key to our understanding of what the Kitab-i-Aqdas is about, really, and what the policy was of Baha'u'llah in revealing His Book of Laws, which He calls the Mother Book -- the Mother Book of the Baha'i Revelation. I refer to Page 5 of the Introduction:

"Know of a certainty that in every Dispensation the light of Divine Revelation hath been vouchsafed to men in direct proportion to their spiritual capacity. Consider the sun. How feeble its rays and the moment it appeareth above the horizon. How gradually its warmth and potency increase as it approacheth its zenith, enabling meanwhile all created things to adapt themselves to the growing intensity of its light. How steadily it declineth until it reacheth its setting point. Were it all of a sudden to manifest the energies latent within it, it would no doubt cause injury to all created things.... In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty hath bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste away and be consumed; for men's hearts would neither sustain the intensity of its revelation, not be able to mirror forth the radiance of its light. Dismayed and overpowered, they would cease to exist."

The House of Justice, before quoting this passage, makes the remark that this quotation from Baha'u'llah points out to us the principle of progressive revelation, which applies even within the ministry of the Prophet Himself. It other words, when we speak about progressive revelation, it isn't only the relation of one Manifestation -- one Dispensation with the other and to those following -- but within the Dispensation itself. And, particularly within the ministry of the Manifestation of God, Himself, you will find this progressiveness, this gradualness, of revelation. This is a very important point to consider. Because, when you look at the way Baha'u'llah revealed His Laws, you will see how very careful He was in observing the systematic, planned program of disclosing the provisions of the Book and gradually implementing them.

With this principle in mind, I will now explain to you how this has happened. The [revelation of the] Kitab-i-Aqdas took place in 1873. We know He first received the intimation of His Revelation in 1852-53, in the Siyah-Chal. Twenty years passed and nothing happened. If you take the point of His Declaration in Baghdad, you have ten years with no revelation of any laws. Although He planted the idea when revealing His Kitab-i-Iqan, which was before the revelation -- before the Declaration -- in which He makes it clear that "Him Whom God will make manifest" will also have His Book of Laws, just as the Point of the Bayan had His Book of Laws, the Bayan. So, He hints at this, that there will be a Book. For twenty years He withheld its text. In one of the passages quoted here we see that the friends asked Him repeatedly to give laws, but He refused. He felt that the time had not come to give the laws to the friends.

Then we have the time of the revelation. Again, it did not all happen in one day. It happened gradually, over a period of two years. As you know, Baha'u'llah arrived in 'Akka at the end of August in 1868. He spent two years, two months in the barracks prison. Following that, He spent about ten months in three different homes in 'Akka. That totals about three years. Then He went to the House of 'Udi-Khammar. For those of you who have been on pilgrimage know that the House of 'Abbud is divided into two parts: the eastern section and the western section. The eastern section is the House of 'Udi-Khammar. Baha'u'llah went first to the eastern section of the house. He had half of that house that we now call the House of 'Abbud. He went into that room around September 1871 and from that time until 1873, we have the revelation of the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

I would like to point out a very interesting phenomenon. During those two years Baha'u'llah went through intense suffering. If you read God Passes By carefully you see that those three years coincided with the time when three followers of Baha'u'llah killed three Azalis. Of course, the Azalis made a lot of trouble for the Baha'is. Baha'u'llah had warned that they should do nothing like that. They disobeyed Him. They planned it secretly. They killed the Azalis, and there was a scandal in 'Akka.

The government troops came to the House of 'Udi-Khammar, to the courtyard on the eastern side of the House. They had already taken 'Abdu'l-Baha. 'Abdu'l-Baha was in chains. And from the courtyard down there, 'Abdu'l-Baha explained to Baha'u'llah what had happened. Baha'u'llah [had been] in His room dictating to His amanuensis, who had recently arrived in the house, and He was taken to be interrogated. He was imprisoned -- actually imprisoned -- for three nights with 'Abdu'l-Baha. This event saddened the heart of Baha'u'llah so much that we have several references to it in God Passes By.

It is important for us to remember this synchronization of events in these times. Tragic on the one hand, and the flowering of His Revelation and the ascendancy of His thought, on the other.

Shoghi Effendi refers to this as a [major] crisis in God Passes By [see page 185]:

"...characterized by bitter suffering, severe restrictions, and intense turmoil, which, in its gravity, surpassed even the agonies of the Siyah-Chal of Tihran, and to which no other event, in the history of the entire century can compare... [Baha'u'llah said], "Know thou that upon Our arrival at this Spot, We chose to designate it as 'The Most Great Prison.' Though previously subjected in another land (Tihran) to chains and fetters, We yet refused to call it by that name....""

In one of his writings He calls it [Siyah-Chal] "The Greater Prison." He says He has reserved this title [The Most Great Prison] for 'Akka. "O ye endowed with understanding!" This fresh crisis was marked throughout, not only by the assaults of adversaries from without, as it happened in the Siyah-Chal, but by the machinations of His enemies from within, as well as by the grievous misdeeds of those, who, though bearing His Name, perpetrated what made His heart and His pen alike to lament. It was at this time of deep sorrow that Baha'u'llah sat down and wrote the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

It is interesting that we have this. Shoghi Effendi, in one of his writings says: "Joy and sadness embrace each other." Crisis and victory follow each other [see GPB, xiii, and 409]. This is what happened in the Siyah-Chal. The imprisonment of Baha'u'llah was a very low point in His life, yet under those circumstances He received the intimation of His Revelation.

In Baghdad: He is at the point of being exiled to that country, Constantinople. He has to leave the country. Yet, at that point, He declared His Mission. In Adrianople: the time when He wanted to send His letters to the Kings at the beginning of the Proclamation period coincided with the breaking of the Covenant by Azal (his attempt to poison Baha'u'llah). And now in 'Akka, He decides to reveal His Book of Laws -- He has this other crisis. And, in this suffering, He writes and produces this Book.

Take 'Abdu'l-Baha, His Will and Testament: He, again, wrote it at a time of crisis, of danger. He said, "I don't have a moment's hope of life." He wasn't sure what was going to happen. He was standing to be deported. He was standing to be crucified. He writes His Will: the potent instrument of World Order. You see, this happens all the time. And it's going to happen again.

I spoke of opposition. It will happen. But at the time it will be a great victory for the Cause. This opposition is going to inspire and instill further victory. It's a "pulsation," Shoghi Effendi says. Crisis and victory.

After the Revelation [of the Kitab-i-Aqdas], what does He [Baha'u'llah] do? He doesn't send it to Persia. For about a year He kept it in 'Akka. But He wrote about it to the friends. He told them that The Book had been revealed. It will be sent. Again we have this idea He ordered Zayn to ask questions so that clarifications could be made. In the meantime, the Book has gone to Persia, so some of the friends in Persia write to Baha'u'llah, and He elucidates some of His laws in response to those questions. And then He reveals some subsidiary laws in Tablets such as Ishraqat (Splendours), Bisharat (Glad-Tidings), Tarazat (Ornaments), Tajalliyat (Effulgences), Kalimat-i-FirdawsIyyih (Words of Paradise), Law-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Tablet), Law-i-Dunya (Tablet of the World), and Law-i-Maqsud (Tablet of Maqsud). These laws are revealed at this time, but they should be regarded as a part of the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

He did not allow the translation of the Book. He didn't say this about His other Writings, but about this, He did. He sent a copy of the Book to India and had it published there. The official publication we have of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, in Arabic, which is the language in which the Book was revealed, was [published] in the time of Baha'u'llah and in India.

"In carrying out these provisions, use tact and wisdom," He tells them. "You should obey these laws in a way that will not cause disturbance, will not raise clamor among the heedless." Then Zayn compiled, in another book, the answers he has received -- and presents them to Baha'u'llah -- and He approves them. These are the various stages Baha'u'llah went through in giving this Book and its provisions out.

And finally we have Shoghi Effendi commenting about this whole affair -- and commenting about the work of Baha'u'llah and the Cause with illuminating comments. He says that Baha'u'llah has deliberately left gaps in the laws. These He left for the Universal House of Justice to fill. This was the policy of Baha'u'llah about this Book.

Then came 'Abdu'l-Baha. What did He do? He said, "No, you cannot publish the Book." But He answered many, many questions the friends asked Him about the laws. He interpreted them. He elucidated them.

Then came Shoghi Effendi. And he did exactly like 'Abdu'l-Baha. He wouldn't allow the publication of the Book. He continued the process of further elucidating, answering questions, explaining what is meant by the statements of Baha'u'llah. Some wonderful questions have been presented to Shoghi Effendi, and he has answered them. And we thank God for these wonderful people who have asked these questions from 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi because we have a mine of information and elucidation about the provisions of the Book.

But Shoghi Effendi started a new process. We are now at one stage of what he started. How did it all start?

It happened with an event in Egypt. It happened around the year 1935 when one of the religious courts in Egypt said that the Baha'is were heretics and can't be regarded as Muslims. He saw in this a great opportunity -- a victory for the Cause. He started telling the friends everywhere that, "This is a great victory. They're telling us we are a distinct religion. They are telling us we are an independent religion. We have to prove it. This is our time."

So what did the Guardian do? He immediately instructed the Egyptian National Assembly to sit down and compile a codification of the laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas on personal status only, which is marriage, divorce, inheritance. Later, he added burial. And he told them to prepare this codification -- and they did. They presented it to him, and he approved it.

Just a comment here: This codification, which was made in the twenties, is not a codification of the laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas only. It is a codification [of some] Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Baha and tablets of Shoghi Effendi. They tried to make it as complete as they could but as simple as they could. They presented it to Shoghi Effendi, and he approved it. He immediately sent a copy of this document to several National Spiritual Assemblies. The records show that he even sent a copy to the American NSA. A copy of this document was presented to the Egyptian cabinet. Of course, the result was that it was turned down, but we are not interested in that. We are interested in the evolution of the disclosure of the contents of this Book.

What does the Guardian do next? He published the [Arabic] codification in Baha'i World [Vol. VI, 1934-36, pp. 363-379].

This is what Shoghi Effendi did in this gradual disclosure and implementation. Then he explained to the friends that there are certain laws which have been revealed by Baha'u'llah in anticipation of a future society.

There are certain laws which are not binding upon the friends because they may be in direct conflict with the civil law. So he made two categories of laws immediately: Those which, in his view, were revealed by Baha'u'llah in anticipation of a future society -- such as the laws on manslaughter, on arson, or adultery, on theft. We cannot possibly carry out these laws. We need a Baha'i state to carry them out. Baha'u'llah has given these laws in anticipation of a future society, and they are not binding upon us today. So, Shoghi Effendi set them aside. This is true about every country in the whole world. There isn't a single Baha'i state in the world yet.

Then we have those laws which, in certain countries conflict with civil law, such as the law of inheritance. In most countries of the world today, inheritance has become a part of the civil law, not a religious law. Therefore you cannot take the law of Baha'u'llah and say if a man dies intestate -- without leaving a will -- his estate should be divided in [a certain] way. Many governments of the world, including the United States, will not accept that. So, it is in direct conflict with the civil law.

In certain countries, giving a dowry by a husband to his wife is against the law. So, to bring this in at this point, and [to] want to have it recognized by a government along with Baha'i marriage, was propitious, but probably in direct conflict with the civil law. So this is another category.

So, what was left, then, he divided into two. Those which, in his view, in that particular country, in that part of the world, was not quite ready to carry out. For example, the Huququ'llah was not to be applied in the West. He felt that the time had not come for the West to have ablutions before the obligatory prayer. In Africa, for example, where the Baha'is were tied down by tribal law, he said it was not important that the tribal marriage ceremony and the Baha'i ceremony occur on the same day, whereas this is binding in the West. He said that tribal marriage was quite satisfactory. Tribal marriage is not legally recognized as such in the country -- either civil marriage or church marriage -- not tribal marriage. [But] Shoghi Effendi said it's quite all right -- if they have tribal marriage plus Baha'i marriage, it's all right. There [are] relaxations that he allowed in certain countries, as if he were taking the pulse of each country and deciding what was propitious and what wasn't.

And in the final category was those laws which were to be binding and universally applicable. The House of Justice has made it very clear that, by publishing this book, no addition has been made to the number of laws to be applied in the West, or to become binding in the West. This will be the subject of careful study by the Universal House of Justice and, from time to time, as deemed wise and propitious, the communities in various parts of the world will be informed which laws of the third category will be applicable -- the third category being those that are neither in anticipation of a future society (Category I), nor in direct conflict with civil law (Category II), but fall in this particular category of wisdom.

This is always under consideration by the House; and, when the time is propitious and opportune, the House will inform the friends which laws are additionally applicable in their case.

When it came to those laws which were now to be enforced, he said [in essence], "We are serious about it. We are going to have sanctions." He authorized National Spiritual Assemblies to impose sanctions on transgressors, whenever they were breaking laws which were binding upon them. He went that far. Then the next step in this gradual disclosure of the laws was when he decided that one of the goals of the Nine Year Plan would be a synopsis and codification of the laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas -- not the laws of the Baha'i Revelation. And he said that the publication of this book will be a prelude to the translation and publication of the entire Book with full annotation and explanations. This will be done by a body of experts.

He translated everything. He was our interpreter, our translator -- the most-great translator we have ever had -- yet here, when it came to these laws, he delegates this to a body of experts to do this particular task.

Finally, in the years preceding his passing, he worked on the fulfillment of the goals he had, himself, included with the Plan, and he left, after his passing, precious, precious notes in his own handwriting, both in Persian and English. And the House, of course, values and has valued greatly, and was able to base this book on the precious notes of the beloved Guardian.

Now what did the House of Justice do? In its Nine Year Plan it re-included the goal of the Ten Year Crusade -- carried it over. It took the notes that the Guardian had left (they were obviously incomplete) and completed them according to the pattern he had already begun, and was able to complete this document which is now in your hands. They have also informed the friends that they would be notified when additional laws would become binding, and will provide supplementary legislation to fill those gaps that Shoghi Effendi mentioned that Baha'u'llah left deliberately in the body of His Laws.

In the Introduction there are several new translations that had not yet been released to the friends. Page 3: the passage at the beginning of the last paragraph is new. Page 4: at the end of the page and at the top of Page 5 is new. The entire section of the last paragraph on Page 7 is new.

In the Notes: Page 57, point 5; Page 58, point 8; Page 10; Page 59, top of the page, 59; 61, item 26, visiting Holy Places (from 'Abdu'l-Baha), new translation; Page 62, passage at the top of the page under item 27 was released by the House of Justice at an earlier date -- it has been repeated here. Item 30, Page 62 is new; Page 64, Item 40 is new. These are new passages that have been translated by the House of Justice in connection with these notes that the House felt would be of interest to the friends as additional information and explanation of some of these laws.

The first entry of the Synopsis is the appointment of 'Abdu'l-Baha as the Successor to Baha'u'llah and Interpreter of His Teachings.

This goals has been with us for nine years. I was so interested in this because I have seen Shoghi Effendi's notes, and the first item of the Kitab-i-Aqdas to be codified was the appointment of 'Abdu'l-Baha with Roman I. Shoghi Effendi considered the appointment of 'Abdu'l-Baha as the most important item of the Kitab-i-Aqdas. It is the Covenant. He could see the relative importance of things that we could not.

Under that he has two entries: "The faithful are enjoined to turn their faces to the One Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root." Point 2: The faithful are bidden to refer whatsoever they do not understand in the Baha'i Writings to "Him Who hath branched from this Mighty Stock." One would think they are the same. They are not. Both appear in the "Dispensation of Baha'u'llah." These verses are not the same. If you look at them carefully, Point I is to "turn to" and Point II is "to refer to." To turn to, as the Center of the Cause or as the Center of the Covenant, is one thing. The second point is to refer to Him what you do not understand. You are asking Him a question here, for elucidation, for interpretation. Therefore, you are not referring to Him as the Center of the Cause, but you are referring to Him in His capacity as the Interpreter of the Writings...

[1] These notes were transcribed by Bob Hart from a taped talk in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1973 when The Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas was released. Regrettably, the tape ran out before the talk was completed (about five minutes later). Gwyn Magaditsch reformatted it by changing some paragraphing and added a few explanatory in square brackets.