"the representatives of the people" in Aqdas note 162

Sen McGlinn

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In verse 147 of the Ketab-e Aqdas, Baha’u’llah says (in Arabic) that begging is forbidden and giving to one who begs is haram. He says “All have been enjoined to earn a living, and as for those who are incapable of doing so, it is incumbent on the Deputies of God and on the wealthy ( وکلآء و الاغنيآء ) to make adequate provision for them.”

That’s in the Bahai World Centre’s translation. Where the translation says “Deputies of God,” the Arabic just says vukalaa`, meaning Deputies, or Trustees, or Guardians (as in the guardian of an orphan). It’s an honourable term: if they had been vukalaa` of the Ottoman Sultan that would translate as Ministers of the Crown. I suppose the translators added “of God” to clarify that these are not government officials.

Apparently some Persian Bahais of the time of Abdu’l-Baha wondered who these Trustees might be, because he wrote a tablet in Persian that translates and explains this verse, including the meaning of the Arabic word vukalaa`. Part of this tablet is translated in Note 162 of the Aqdas: the relevant sentence reading:

By ‘Deputies’ is meant the representatives of the people, that is to say the members of the House of Justice.”

The Persian Tablet is published in the compilation Ganjineh-ye Hudud o Ahkam p 351 and this sentence is on the following page, which reads (in my translation):

By “Deputies/Ministers” is meant the Deputies/Ministers of the House, that is, the members of the House of Justice.
There is no word for “the people” in the Persian text. That’s the product of a bad translation in 1974, that was not critically checked when revised for the Aqdas notes. Or just possibly, there is a variant of this tablet where “the people” are mentioned, but I have searched and not found, and Ganjineh-ye Hudud o Ahkam is a generally reliable compilation.

The problem with changing “of the House” to “of the people” is that it alters the meaning of a sacred text, and a reader might think that Abdu’l-Baha was saying that the members of the House of Justice would be representatives of ALL the people, not just the Bahais. That would require them to be elected by all the people, but Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha and the Guardian have said that the members of the houses of justice are elected by the Bahais. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

And now, concerning the House of Justice which God hath ordained as the source of all good and freed from all error, it must be elected by universal suffrage, that is, by the believers. (The Will and Testament, p. 14