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Home: Religion: Bahai: Literature, Canonical Texts.

Bahai Faith Literature, Canonical Texts

The ‘canonical texts’ are the writings of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, and the authenticated talks of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The writings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh are considered as divine revelation, the writings and talks of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the writings of Shoghi Effendi as authoritative interpretation, and those of the Universal House of Justice as authoritative legislation and elucidation. Some measure of divine guidance is assumed for all of these texts.


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Important Literature of the Bahai Faith

The Bahá'í Faith relies extensively on its literature. Literacy is strongly encouraged so that believers may read the texts for themselves. In addition doctrinal questions are routinely addressed by returning to primary works.

Much of the early works of the religion were in the form of letters to individuals or communities. These are termed tablets and have been collected into various folios by Bahá'ís over time. Today, the Universal House of Justice still uses letters as a primary method of communication.

Scripture, inspiration and interpretation

Bahá'ís believe that the founders of the religion, The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, received revelation directly from God. As such their works are considered divinely inspired. These works are considered to be "revealed text" or revelation.
    Timeline of Bahá'í writings:
  • 1844 - 1850 The Báb
  • 1852 - 1892 Bahá’u’lláh
  • 1892 - 1921[5] `Abdu'l-Bahá
  • 1921 - 1957 Shoghi Effendi
  • 1963 - present Universal House of Justice

The 'Revealed Text'

`Abdu'l-Bahá was appointed by Bahá'u'lláh to be his successor and authorized him to interpret the religion's "revealed text." The works of `Abdu'l-Bahá are therefore considered authoritative directives and interpretation, as well as part of Bahá'í scripture. He, along with The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, is considered one of the "Central Figures" of the religion.

Likewise Shoghi Effendi's interpretations and directives are considered authoritative, but are not considered to expand upon the "revealed text", or to be scripture.

In the Bahá'í view, the Universal House of Justice does not have the position to interpret the founders' works, nor those of `Abdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi. However, it is charged with addressing any question not addressed in those works. As such its directives are considered authoritative, as long as they are in force (the Universal House of Justice may alter or revoke its own earlier decisions as needed), and are often collected into compilations or folios.

The works of the Central Figures, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice taken together are the canonical texts of the Baha'i Faith.

A special category of works consist of the prayers of the Central Figures. These were often included in original letters and have been collected into various prayer books. Bahá'u'lláh's Prayers and Meditations is a significant volume. As Bahá'ís are to pray, meditate, and study sacred scripture daily, these books are common.

'Revelation writing': The first draft of a tablet of Baha'u'llah


Bahá'u'lláh wrote many books, tablets and prayers, of which only a fraction has been translated into English until now. He revealed thousands of tablets with a total volume more than 70 times the size of the Qur'an and more than 15 times the size of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Over 7000 tablets and other works have been collected of an estimated 15,000 texts. However only a relative few have been translated and catalogued.


Bahá'u'lláh occasionally would write himself, but normally the revelation was dictated to his secretaries, whose tracts are sometimes recorded it in what has been called revelation writing, a shorthand script written with extreme speed owing to the rapidity of the utterance being transcribed. Afterwards, Bahá'u'lláh revised and approved these drafts. These revelation drafts and many other transcriptions of the writings of Bahá'u'lláh's, some of which are in his own handwriting, are kept in the International Bahá'í Archives in Haifa, Israel. Some large works, for example the Kitáb-i-Íqán, were revealed in a very short time, as in a night, or a few days.


Most Bahá'í literature, including all the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, was originally written in either Persian or Arabic. English translations use the characteristic Bahá'í orthography developed by Shoghi Effendi to render the original names. His work was not just that of a translator, as he was also the designated interpreter of the writings, and his translations are used as a standard for current translations of the Bahá'í writings.

Nine-pointed star, a symbol
of the Baha'i Faith.

Bahai Literature Authenticity and Authority

The question of the authenticity of given texts is of great concern to Bahá'ís. As noted, they attach considerable importance to the writings of whom they consider to be authoritative figures. The primary duty of the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice and the International Bahá'í Library is the collection, cataloguing, authentication, and translation of these texts.

By way of comparison, "pilgrims' notes" are items, or sayings, attributed to the central figures but have not been authenticated. While these may be inspirational, these are not considered authoritative. Some of `Abdu'l-Bahá's collected talks (e.g. `Abdu'l-Bahá in London, Paris Talks, and The Promulgation of Universal Peace.) may fall into this category, but are awaiting further authentication. The Star of the West, published in the United States from 1910 to 1924, contains many pilgrim's notes and unauthenticated letters of `Abdu'l-Bahá's.

There is no Bahá'í corollary to Islamic Hadith; in fact, Bahá'ís do not consider Hadith authoritative.

The Bahá'í community seeks to expand the body of authenticated and translated texts. The 1992 publication of the English translation of Bahá'u'lláh The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and the more recent Gems of Divine Mysteries (2002), The Summons of the Lord of Hosts (2002), and The Tabernacle of Unity (2006) are significant additions to the body of work available.

At the same time there is concerted effort to re-translate, edit, and even redact works that are not authenticated. For example, `Abdu'l-Bahá on Divine Philosophy, published in 1916, was not reprinted at the direction of Shoghi Effendi. Also, early editions of Esslemont's Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era contained several passages that could not be authenticated, or were incorrect. These have been reviewed and updated in subsequent editions. This practice has been criticized by observers, but is considered an integral part of maintaining the integrity of the texts.

Bábí texts are proving very difficult to authenticate, despite the collection of a variety of documents by E.G. Browne in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. Browne's principle correspondents were Azalis whom he considered to be the genuine followers of the Báb. In addition to the difficulties of collecting documents at such a distance — Browne was at Cambridge — was the widespread Azali practice of Taqiyya (Dissimulation), or concealing one's beliefs. Browne appears to have been unaware of this. In addition to the difficulties of collecting reliable manuscripts, Azali taqiyya had the effect of rendering many early Bábí documents unreliable afterwards, as Azali Bábís would often alter and falsify Bábí teachings and history. In contrast, dissimulation was condemned by Bahá'u'lláh and was gradually abandoned by the early Bahá'ís.

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