81. The penalties for wounding or striking a person depend upon the severity of the injury; for each degree the Lord of Judgment hath prescribed a certain indemnity. ¶56
While Bahá’u’lláh specified that the extent of the penalty depends upon “the severity of the injury,” there is no record of His having set out the details of the size of the indemnity with regard to each degree of offense. The responsibility to determine these devolves upon the Universal House of Justice.
82. Verily, it is enjoined upon you to offer a feast, once in every month ¶57
This injunction has become the basis for the holding of monthly Bahá’í festivities and as such constitutes the ordination of the Nineteen Day Feast. In the Arabic Bayán the Báb called upon His followers to gather together once every nineteen days to show hospitality and fellowship. Bahá’u’lláh here confirms this and notes the unifying role of such occasions.
‘Abdu’l‑Bahá and Shoghi Effendi after Him have gradually unfolded the institutional significance of this injunction. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá emphasized the importance of the spiritual and devotional character of these gatherings. Shoghi Effendi, besides further elaborating the devotional and social aspects of the Feast, has developed the administrative element of such gatherings and, in systematically instituting the Feast, has provided for a period of consultation on the affairs of the Bahá’í community, including the sharing of news and messages.
In answer to a question as to whether this injunction is obligatory, Bahá’u’lláh stated it was not (Q&A 48). Shoghi Effendi in a letter written on his behalf further comments:
83. If ye should hunt with beasts or birds of prey, invoke ye the Name of God when ye send them to pursue their quarry; for then whatever they catch shall be lawful unto you, even should ye find it to have died. ¶60
By this law, Bahá’u’lláh greatly simplifies practices and religious regulations of the past relating to hunting. He has also stated that hunting with such weapons as bows and arrows, guns, and the like, is included in this ruling, but that the consumption of game if it is found dead in a trap or a net is prohibited (Q&A 24).
84. hunt not to excess ¶60
85. He hath granted them no right to the property of others. ¶61
The injunction to show kindness to Bahá’u’lláh’s kindred does not give them a share in the property of others. This is in contrast to Shí‘ih Muslim practice, in which lineal descendants of Muḥammad are entitled to receive a share of a certain tax.
86. Should anyone intentionally destroy a house by fire, him also shall ye burn; should anyone deliberately take another’s life, him also shall ye put to death. ¶62
The law of Bahá’u’lláh prescribes the death penalty for murder and arson, with the alternative of life imprisonment (see note 87).
In His Tablets ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá explains the difference between revenge and punishment. He affirms that individuals do not have the right to take revenge, that revenge is despised in the eyes of God, and that the motive for punishment is not vengeance, but the imposition of a penalty for the committed offense. In Some Answered Questions, He confirms that it is the right of society to impose punishments on criminals for the purpose of protecting its members and defending its existence.
In the Aqdas Bahá’u’lláh has given death as the penalty for murder. However, He has permitted life imprisonment as an alternative. Both practices would be in accordance with His Laws. Some of us may not be able to grasp the wisdom of this when it disagrees with our own limited vision; but we must accept it, knowing His Wisdom, His Mercy and His Justice are perfect and for the salvation of the entire world. If a man were falsely condemned to die, can we not believe Almighty God would compensate him a thousandfold, in the next world, for this human injustice? You cannot give up a salutary law just because on rare occasions the innocent may be punished.
The details of the Bahá’í law of punishment for murder and arson, a law designed for a future state of society, were not specified by Bahá’u’lláh. The various details of the law, such as degrees of offense, whether extenuating circumstances are to be taken into account, and which of the two prescribed punishments is to be the norm are left to the Universal House of Justice to decide in light of prevailing conditions when the law is to be in operation. The manner in which the punishment is to be carried out is also left to the Universal House of Justice to decide.
In relation to arson, this depends on what “house” is burned. There is obviously a tremendous difference in the degree of offense between the person who burns down an empty warehouse and one who sets fire to a school full of children.
87. Should ye condemn the arsonist and the murderer to life imprisonment, it would be permissible according to the provisions of the Book. ¶62
Shoghi Effendi, in response to a question about this verse of the Aqdas, affirmed that while capital punishment is permitted, an alternative, “life imprisonment,” has been provided “whereby the rigors of such a condemnation can be seriously mitigated.” He states that “Bahá’u’lláh has given us a choice and has, therefore, left us free to use our own discretion within certain limitations imposed by His law.” In the absence of specific guidance concerning the application of this aspect of Bahá’í law, it remains for the Universal House of Justice to legislate on the matter in the future.
88. God hath prescribed matrimony unto you. ¶63
The Synopsis and Codification, section IV.C.1.a.–o., summarizes and synthesizes the provisions in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and Questions and Answers concerning marriage and the conditions under which it is permitted (Q&A 3, 13, 46, 50, 84, and 92), the law of betrothal (Q&A 43), the payment of the dowry (Q&A 12, 26, 39, 47, 87, and 88), the procedures to be adopted in the event of the prolonged absence of a spouse (Q&A 4 and 27), and sundry other circumstances (Q&A 12 and 47). (See also notes 89–99.)
89. Beware that ye take not unto yourselves more wives than two. Whoso contenteth himself with a single partner from among the maidservants of God, both he and she shall live in tranquillity. ¶63
While the text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas appears to permit bigamy, Bahá’u’lláh counsels that tranquillity and contentment derive from monogamy. In another Tablet, He underlines the importance of the individual’s acting in such a way as to “bring comfort to himself and to his partner.” ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, the authorized Interpreter of the Bahá’í Writings, states that in the text of the Aqdas monogamy is in effect enjoined. He elaborates this theme in a number of Tablets, including the following:
Know thou that polygamy is not permitted under the law of God, for contentment with one wife hath been clearly stipulated. Taking a second wife is made dependent upon equity and justice being upheld between the two wives, under all conditions. However, observance of justice and equity towards two wives is utterly impossible. The fact that bigamy has been made dependent upon an impossible condition is clear proof of its absolute prohibition. Therefore it is not permissible for a man to have more than one wife.
Polygamy is a very ancient practice among the majority of humanity. The introduction of monogamy has been only gradually accomplished by the Manifestations of God. Jesus, for example, did not prohibit polygamy, but abolished divorce except in the case of fornication; Muḥammad limited the number of wives to four, but making plurality of wives contingent on justice, and reintroducing permission for divorce; Bahá’u’lláh, Who was revealing His Teachings in the milieu of a Muslim society, introduced the question of monogamy gradually in accordance with the principles of wisdom and the progressive unfoldment of His purpose. The fact that He left His followers with an infallible Interpreter of His Writings enabled Him to outwardly permit two wives in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas but uphold a condition that enabled ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá to elucidate later that the intention of the law was to enforce monogamy.
90. he who would take into his service a maid may do so with propriety ¶63
Bahá’u’lláh states that a man may employ a maiden for domestic service. This was not permissible under Shí‘ih Muslim practice unless the employer entered into a marriage contract with her. Bahá’u’lláh emphasizes that the “service” referred to in this verse is solely “such as is performed by any other class of servants, be they young or old, in exchange for wages” (Q&A 30). An employer has no sexual rights over his maid. She is “free to choose a husband at whatever time she pleaseth,” for the purchase of women is forbidden (Q&A 30).
91. This is My bidding unto you; hold fast to it as an assistance to yourselves. ¶63
While marriage is enjoined in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh clarifies that it is not obligatory (Q&A 46). Shoghi Effendi, in a letter written on his behalf, also declared that “marriage is by no means an obligation,” and he affirmed that “in the last resort it is for the individual to decide whether he wishes to lead a family life or live in a state of celibacy.” If a person has to wait a considerable period of time before finding a spouse, or ultimately must remain single, it does not mean that the individual is thereby unable to fulfill his or her life’s purpose, which is fundamentally spiritual.
92. We have conditioned it … upon the permission of their parents ¶65
Bahá’u’lláh has clearly stated the consent of all living parents is required for a Bahá’í marriage. This applies whether the parents are Bahá’ís or non-Bahá’ís, divorced for years or not. This great law He has laid down to strengthen the social fabric, to knit closer the ties of the home, to place a certain gratitude and respect in the hearts of the children for those who have given them life and sent their souls out on the eternal journey towards their Creator.
93. No marriage may be contracted without payment of a dowry ¶66
The dowry is to be paid by the bridegroom to the bride. It is fixed at 19 mithqáls of pure gold for city dwellers, and 19 mithqáls of silver for village dwellers (see note 94). Bahá’u’lláh indicates that, if, at the time of the wedding, the bridegroom is unable to pay the dowry in full, it is permissible for him to issue a promissory note to the bride (Q&A 39).
With the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh many familiar concepts, customs and institutions are redefined and take on new meaning. One of these is the dowry. The institution of dowry is a very ancient practice in many cultures and takes many forms. In some countries it is a payment made by the parents of the bride to the bridegroom; in others it is a payment made by the bridegroom to the parents of the bride, called a “bride-price.” In both such cases the amount is often quite considerable. The law of Bahá’u’lláh abolishes all such variants and converts the dowry into a symbolic act whereby the bridegroom presents a gift of a certain limited value to the bride.
94. for city dwellers at nineteen mithqáls of pure gold, and for village dwellers at the same amount in silver ¶66
95. Whoso wisheth to increase this sum, it is forbidden him to exceed the limit of ninety-five mithqáls … If he content himself, however, with a payment of the lowest level, it shall be better for him according to the Book. ¶66
Whatever is revealed in the Bayán, in respect to those residing in cities and villages, is approved and should be carried out. However, in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas mention is made of the lowest level. The intention is nineteen mithqáls of silver, specified in the Bayán for village dwellers. This is more pleasing unto God, provided the two parties agree. The purpose is to promote the comfort of all, and to bring about concord and union among the people. Therefore, the greater the consideration shown in these matters the better it will be … The people of Bahá must associate and deal with each other with the utmost love and sincerity. They should be mindful of the interests of all, especially the friends of God.
‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, in one of His Tablets, summarized some of the provisions for determining the level of the dowry. The unit of payment mentioned in the extract, cited below, is the “váḥid.” One váḥid is equivalent to nineteen mithqáls. He stated:
City dwellers must pay in gold and village dwellers in silver. It dependeth on the financial means at the disposal of the groom. If he is poor, he payeth one váḥid; if of modest means, he payeth two váḥids; if well-to-do, three váḥids; if wealthy, four váḥids; and if very rich, he giveth five váḥids. It is, in truth, a matter for agreement between the bridegroom, the bride, and their parents. Whatever agreement is reached should be carried out.
In this same Tablet, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá encouraged the believers to refer questions concerning the application of this law to the Universal House of Justice, which has “the authority to legislate.” He stressed that “it is this body which will enact laws and legislate upon secondary matters which are not explicit in the Holy Text.”
96. should any one of His servants intend to travel, he must fix for his wife a time when he will return home ¶67
If the husband leaves without informing his wife of the date of his return, and no news of him reaches her and all trace of him is lost, Bahá’u’lláh has stated that, should the husband have been aware of the law prescribed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the wife may remarry after waiting a full year. If, however, the husband was unaware of the law, the wife must wait until news of her husband reaches her (Q&A 4).
97. it behooveth her to wait for a period of nine months, after which there is no impediment to her taking another husband ¶67
In the event of the husband’s failure, either to return at the end of the specified period of time or to notify his wife of a delay, the wife must wait nine months, after which she is free to remarry, though it is preferable for her to wait longer (see note 147 for the Bahá’í calendar).
Bahá’u’lláh states that, in such circumstances, should news reach the wife of “her husband’s death or murder,” she must also wait nine months, prior to remarrying (Q&A 27). ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, in a Tablet, has further clarified that the nine months’ waiting period following news of the husband’s death applies only if the husband had been away at the time of his death, and not if he dies while at home.
98. she should choose the course that is praiseworthy ¶67
Bahá’u’lláh defines “the course that is praiseworthy” as “the exercise of patience” (Q&A 4).
99. two just witnesses ¶67
Bahá’u’lláh sets out “the criterion of justness” in relation to witnesses as “a good reputation among the people.” He states that it is not necessary that the witnesses should be Bahá’ís since “The testimony of all God’s servants, of whatever faith or creed, is acceptable before His Throne” (Q&A 79).
100. Should resentment or antipathy arise between husband and wife, he is not to divorce her but to bide in patience throughout the course of one whole year ¶68
Divorce is strongly condemned in the Bahá’í Teachings. If, however, antipathy or resentment develop between the marriage partners, divorce is permissible after the lapse of one full year. During this year of patience, the husband is obliged to provide for the financial support of his wife and children, and the couple is urged to strive to reconcile their differences. Shoghi Effendi affirms that both the husband and wife “have equal right to ask for divorce” whenever either partner “feels it absolutely essential to do so.”
In Questions and Answers, Bahá’u’lláh elaborates a number of issues concerning the year of patience, its observance (Q&A 12), establishing the date of its beginning (Q&A 19 and 40), the conditions for reconciliation (Q&A 38), and the role of witnesses and the Local House of Justice (Q&A 73 and 98). In relation to the witnesses, the Universal House of Justice has clarified that in these days the duties of the witnesses in cases of divorce are performed by the Spiritual Assemblies.
101. The Lord hath prohibited … the practice to which ye formerly had recourse when thrice ye had divorced a woman. ¶68
This relates to a law of Islám set out in the Qur’án which decreed that under certain conditions a man could not remarry his divorced wife unless she had married and been divorced by another man. Bahá’u’lláh affirms that this is the practice which has been prohibited in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Q&A 31).
102. He who hath divorced his wife may choose, upon the passing of each month, to remarry her when there is mutual affection and consent, so long as she hath not taken another husband … unless, clearly, her circumstances change. ¶68
Shoghi Effendi states, in a letter written on his behalf, that the intention of “the passing of each month” is not to impose a limitation, and that it is possible for a divorced couple to remarry at any time after their divorce, so long as neither party is currently married to another person.
103. semen is not unclean ¶74
In a number of religious traditions and in Shí‘ih Muslim practice semen has been declared ritually unclean. Bahá’u’lláh has here dispelled this concept. See also note 106 below.
104. Cleave ye unto the cord of refinement ¶74
‘Abdu’l‑Bahá refers to the effect of “purity and holiness, cleanliness and refinement” on the exaltation of “the human condition” and “the development of man’s inner reality.” He states: “The fact of having a pure and spotless body exercises an influence upon the spirit of man.” (See also note 74.)
105. Wash ye every soiled thing with water that hath undergone no alteration in any one of the three respects ¶74
The “three respects” referred to in this verse are changes in the color, taste or smell of the water. Bahá’u’lláh provides additional guidance concerning pure water and the point at which it is considered unsuitable for use (Q&A 91).
106. God hath … abolished the concept of “uncleanness,” whereby divers things and peoples have been held to be impure. ¶75
The concept of ritual “uncleanness,” as understood and practiced in some tribal societies and in the religious communities of certain earlier Dispensations, has been abolished by Bahá’u’lláh. He states that through His Revelation “all created things were immersed in the sea of purification.” (See also notes 12, 20, and 103.)
107. first day of Riḍván ¶75
This is a reference to the arrival of Bahá’u’lláh and His companions in the Najíbíyyih Garden outside the city of Baghdád, subsequently referred to by the Bahá’ís as the Garden of Riḍván. This event, which took place thirty-one days after Naw-Rúz, in April 1863, signalized the commencement of the period during which Bahá’u’lláh declared His Mission to His companions. In a Tablet, He refers to His Declaration as “the Day of supreme felicity” and He describes the Garden of Riḍván as “the Spot from which He shed upon the whole of creation the splendors of His Name, the All-Merciful.” Bahá’u’lláh spent twelve days in this Garden prior to departing for Istanbul, the place to which He had been banished.
The Declaration of Bahá’u’lláh is celebrated annually by the twelve-day Riḍván Festival, described by Shoghi Effendi as “the holiest and most significant of all Bahá’í festivals” (see notes 138 and 140).
108. the Bayán ¶77
The Bayán, the Mother Book of the Bábí Dispensation, is the title given by the Báb to His Book of Laws, and it is also applied to the entire body of His Writings. The Persian Bayán is the major doctrinal work and principal repository of the laws ordained by the Báb. The Arabic Bayán is parallel in content but smaller and less weighty. When describing the Persian Bayán in God Passes By Shoghi Effendi indicated that it should be regarded “primarily as a eulogy of the Promised One rather than a code of laws and ordinances designed to be a permanent guide to future generations”.
109. the destruction of books ¶77
In the Tablet of Ishráqát Bahá’u’lláh, referring to the fact that the Báb had made the laws of the Bayán subject to His sanction, states that He put some of the Báb’s laws into effect “by embodying them in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in different words,” while others He set aside.
With regard to the destruction of books, the Bayán commanded the Báb’s followers to destroy all books except those that were written in vindication of the Cause and Religion of God. Bahá’u’lláh abrogates this specific law of the Bayán.
The severe laws and injunctions revealed by the Báb can be properly appreciated and understood only when interpreted in the light of His own statements regarding the nature, purpose and character of His own Dispensation. As these statements clearly reveal, the Bábí Dispensation was essentially in the nature of a religious and indeed social revolution, and its duration had therefore to be short, but full of tragic events, of sweeping and drastic reforms. Those drastic measures enforced by the Báb and His followers were taken with the view of undermining the very foundations of Shí‘ih orthodoxy, and thus paving the way for the coming of Bahá’u’lláh. To assert the independence of the new Dispensation, and to prepare also the ground for the approaching Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb had therefore to reveal very severe laws, even though most of them were never enforced. But the mere fact that He revealed them was in itself a proof of the independent character of His Dispensation and was sufficient to create such widespread agitation, and excite such opposition on the part of the clergy that led them to cause His eventual martyrdom.
110. We have permitted you to read such sciences as are profitable unto you, not such as end in idle disputation ¶77
The Bahá’í Writings enjoin the acquisition of knowledge and the study of the arts and sciences. Bahá’ís are admonished to respect people of learning and accomplishment, and are warned against the pursuit of studies that are productive only of futile wrangling.
In His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh counsels the believers to study such sciences and arts as are “useful” and would further “the progress and advancement” of society, and He cautions against sciences which “begin with words and end with words,” the pursuit of which leads to “idle disputation.” Shoghi Effendi, in a letter written on his behalf, likened sciences that begin with words and end with words to “fruitless excursions into metaphysical hair-splittings,” and, in another letter, he explained that what Bahá’u’lláh primarily intended by such “sciences” are “those theological treatises and commentaries that encumber the human mind rather than help it to attain the truth.”
111. He Who held converse with God ¶80
This is a traditional Jewish and Islamic title of Moses. Bahá’u’lláh states that with the coming of His Revelation “human ears have been privileged to hear what He Who conversed with God heard upon Sinai.”
112. Sinai ¶80
113. the Spirit of God ¶80
114. Carmel … Zion ¶80
115. the Crimson Ark ¶84
116. O Emperor of Austria! He Who is the Dayspring of God’s Light dwelt in the prison of ‘Akká at the time when thou didst set forth to visit the Aqṣá Mosque. ¶85
Francis Joseph (Franz Josef, 1830–1916), Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1869. While in the Holy Land he failed to take the opportunity to inquire about Bahá’u’lláh Who at that time was a prisoner in ‘Akká (Acre).
117. O King of Berlin! ¶86
Kaiser William I (Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig, 1797–1888), the seventh king of Prussia, was acclaimed first Emperor of Germany in January 1871 at Versailles in France, following the victory of Germany over France in the Franco-Prussian War.
118. the one whose power transcended thy power, and whose station excelled thy station ¶86
Bahá’u’lláh addressed two Tablets to Napoleon III, in the second of which He clearly prophesied that Napoleon’s kingdom would be “thrown into confusion,” that his “empire shall pass” from his hands, and that his people would experience great “commotions.”
119. O people of Constantinople! ¶89
The word here translated as “Constantinople” is, in the original, “Ar-Rúm” or “Rome.” This term has generally been used in the Middle East to designate Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire, then the city of Byzantium and its empire, and later the Ottoman Empire.
120. O Spot that art situate on the shores of the two seas! ¶89
This is a reference to Constantinople, now called Istanbul. Located on the Bosporus, a strait about 31 kilometers long which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, it is the largest city and seaport of Turkey.
Constantinople was the capital of the Ottoman Empire from 1453 until 1922. During Bahá’u’lláh’s sojourn in this city, the tyrannical Sultan ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz occupied the throne. The Ottoman Sultans were also the Caliphs, the leaders of Sunní Islám. Bahá’u’lláh anticipated the fall of the Caliphate, which was abolished in 1924.