The Kitab-i-Aqdas is the most holy book in the Baha’i Faith, declaring the rules and guidelines for man to live by for the next thousand years. It was originally written in formal Persian by Baha’u’llah, and was later mostly translated into English by Shoghi Effendi, his great grandson. After Shoghi Effendi’s death, the Universal House of Justice (the guiding body for the religion) finished the translation. Unlike (for instance) the Bible, the rules to live by are not related through stories or analogy: they are straightforward, direct and to the point. I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing: while it is far more precise (a good thing when the rules have to last a thousand years), I feel a little frustrated at the lack of new information, the unlocking of the mysteries of our relationship with God and the higher existence. While I understand that those were released in other tablets, I guess I was still expecting at least a small nod to the spiritual side of things.
The particular edition of the Kitab-i-Aqdas that I read also included elaborations and explanations collected by the Universal House of Justice, as well as two introductions (one written by the House, the other written by Shoghi Effendi). This was kind of frustrating because both introductions essentially talked about the same things: when it was written, why it was withheld for nearly 20 years after it was written before Baha’u’llah released it, and a basic summary of the key items to pay attention to. You would think, considering how much the introductions (the House one especially) build up the Kitab-i-Aqdas, that the book itself would be rather large: it’s 70 pages, followed by another 70 pages of some questions answered by Baha’u’llah and some accompanying texts, and then 90 pages of “notes” collected by the House to clarify things brought up in the previous text.
The actual text of the Kitab-i-Aqdas is rather readable. While the translations are somewhat colloquial to the era (lots of “thee”s “hath”s and “verily”s), the messages Baha’u’llah was trying to convey are very clear and to the point. A great deal of the text is taken up with negating or altering the rules of the work that came before (though, true to form, it primarily deals with the rules of the most immediately previous religion, which in turn dealt with the rules of the previous religion before that, et cetera). The guidelines for inheritance, burial, and marriage are also addressed directly and at length, several of which were particularly interesting. For instance, while it does explicitly allow the possibility of having two spouses, it places a caveat of absolute equality and fairness for both wives (for instance) that effectively precludes current society’s use of that law. There are a few rules and guidelines like that throughout the work, things that Baha’u’llah felt necessary to explicitly include, but likewise was sure that we were not yet ready to deal with. This does suggest, though, that at some point in the next thousand years, we WILL reach a point of social maturity to handle it.
The emphasis of most of the rules is on the family. He makes a point of frowning heavily on divorce, but acknowledges that sometimes it is necessary, and provides specific provisions to follow if divorce is necessary. Adultery is explicitly damned, but with a monetary punishment, not physical. (19 mithqals of gold… roughly 2.227 troy ounces. This cost doubles every time it happens.) I consider this rather forward thinking compared to the punishment for adultery in previous religions. As a counterpoint to the lack of physical punishment in situations such as that, Baha’u’llah is quite explicit on the penalties for murder and arson, encouraging the death penalty for those actions. In the questions and answers, he elaborates that life imprisonment is also acceptable.
I’ve digressed. Returning to the family emphasis in the writing, it is rather clearly exhibited in the guidelines for inheritance, which in fact take up several pages of the primary body of text, detailing a share based system of division. Once the cost of the funeral arrangements have been made (the deceased is to be wrapped in clean silk or cotton with a ring on one finger that is inscribed with the saying “I come forth from God, and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate.”) and the huququllah is paid (“the Right of God,” a bounty paid to the Universal House of Justice in certain circumstances), the rest of the estate is divided up with the children receiving the largest share, followed by the wife, then the siblings, et cetera, all the way out to teachers. I do find it interesting that Baha’u’llah takes so much time to work out such a specific detail for inheritance when there is also a provision that all individuals upon reaching adulthood should make a will for themselves — the rules for inheritance in the Kitab-i-Aqdas are only for cases where there is no will or that the will enters attestation.
I’m not really sure what my reaction to this book is. On one level, I really appreciate the succinct nature of it, but at the same time, it does very little to satisfy my curiosity as a spiritual seeker. I am left very much in the same sentiment that I’ve been in for some time: while I believe in the message, I am to some extent a “lapsed Baha’i,” choosing to operate very much on my own amalgam of beliefs with only a loose structure provided by the Faith. While it was good to gain the insight of the original text and to know precisely what is expected of me from the religion, I find that I am losing my sense of wonder in the world, and worry a great deal that I won’t recover that very vital aspect of who I am. It is an incredible sense of loss that religion, as yet, has not assuaged.
Baha’u’llah. The Kitab-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book. Baha’i Publishing Trust.