The purpose of this blog is to present translations of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks (at any time during his life), based on authenticated notes in Persian or Arabic. While the translations and background information are personal and provisional (you may suggest improvements through the “comments” box), these translations should be a considerable improvement on the material that is now available to the Bahai community. With very few exceptions, the talks of Abdu’l-Baha that are published in The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha in London and the like, are editorial reworkings of notes taken (sometimes in shorthand) as an interpreter provided an impromptu translation of Abdu’l-Baha’s words. They are in fact “pilgrim’s notes,” for this is the same procedure that western pilgrims adopted when they visited Abdu’l-Baha in Palestine: they took notes of what an interpreter said, and later revised their notes, sometimes in consultation with others who were present. The edited notes were often published in Star of the West magazine. The editors of the books that collect these talks used this magazine and other sources, usually changing the grammar and style of the first published version, and sometimes inserting their own ideas or deleting material. On my Bahai Studies blog, I have documented one particularly flagrant interpolation, by Howard MacNutt, the editor of the first edition of The Promulgation of Universal Peace.
As regards such reports of talks, the Guardian wrote:
I truly deplore the unfortunate distortions that have resulted in days past from the incapacity of the interpreter to grasp the meaning of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and from his incompetence to render adequately such truths as have been revealed to him by the Master’s statements. Much of the confusion that has obscured the understanding of the believers should be attributed to this double error involved in the inexact rendering of an only partially understood statement. Not infrequently has the interpreter even failed to convey the exact purport of the inquirer’s specific questions, and, by his deficiency of understanding and expression in conveying the answer of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, has been responsible for reports wholly at variance with the true spirit and purpose of the Cause. It was chiefly in view of the misleading nature of the reports of the informal conversations of ‘Abdu’l-Baha with visiting pilgrims, that I have insistently urged the believers of the West to regard such statements as merely personal impressions of the sayings of their Master, and to quote and consider as authentic only such translations as are based upon the authenticated text of His recorded utterances in the original tongue.
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 4)
In 1947, the Guardian’s secretary wrote on his behalf in 1947 that:
Nothing can be considered scripture for which we do not have an original text. A verbatim record in Persian of His talks would of course be more reliable than one in English because He was not always accurately interpreted . . .
Unfolding Destiny, 208)
Verbatim records in Persian do exist, made by the Persian-speaking members of his entourage. It was Abdu’l-Baha’s practice to insist on checking these for accuracy before allowing their publication in various Persian-language Bahai media. Editors have collected them from these magazines, and they are published for those who can read Persian in three volumes, known for short as Khetabat-e Abdu’l-Baha. The first volume is edited by Mahmud-e Zarqani (the author of Mahmud’s Diary), and bears the imprimatur of Abdu’l-Baha on the title page. Another sign of Abdu’l-Baha’s approval of these talks is that they were translated into Arabic, and published with his approval.
Click ‘Contents‘ for a list of the talks.