A Note on Middle Eastern and Baha’i Terminology

Baha’i is a religion that emerged in the Middle East in the 19th cen-tury—specifically Iran and the Levant—and as such, its history is filled with terminology peculiar to the Islamic society of that region and time. Throughout this book, the reader will notice frequent use of terms that are unfamiliar to most people without a background in the Arabic and Persian languages, Middle Eastern culture, or the Baha’i faith itself.
The word Effendi (e.g. in names such as Abbas Effendi, Shoghi Ef- fendi, etc.) is not actually part of the name, but an honorific title that was used in the Ottoman Empire to mean roughly the equivalent of “Sir.” Similarly, Khanum for women (e.g. in Samadiyya Khanum, Kha- num Jani, etc.) means something like “Lady” or “Madam.”
Mirza is a title that was prefixed to the names of men of Persian ethnic origin in the Baha’i faith (e.g. Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri, Mirza Aqa Jan Kashani, etc.), and simply means “Mister.” In rare cases it is actually a name (e.g. Haji Siyyid Mirza Afhan).
Some names of early Baha’is and others involved in the religion’s history include the titles Aqa, Haji, Mulla, Siyyid, or Shaykh. Aqa (or Agha) means “Master” and is a more honorific version of Mirza. Haji (or Hajji) honors a person who has made the hajj, the Islamic pilgrim¬age to Mecca. Mulla (or Mullah) means a Shi’ite Muslim clergyman. Siyyid (peculiar Baha’i spelling of Sayyid) identifies a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Shaykh (or Sheikh) means a revered elder, usu¬ally a Muslim cleric of Arab origin.
Pasha is a Turkish title for an important person, such as a high po-litical official or dignitary (e.g. Namiq Pasha, governor of Ottoman Iraq). It is similar to the British “Lord.”

The Baha’i tradition has also developed its own unique terms for certain concepts and activities. For example, many of Baha’u’llah’s writ¬ings are called “tablets,” and all of his writings are regarded as having been “revealed” by God through the “Supreme Pen” (i.e. Baha’u’llah channeling the divine voice rather than writing of his own accord). Baha’u’llah and other great prophets of history who founded religions (e.g. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, etc.) are considered to be “Manifesta¬tions of God.” Baha’is often refer to their religion as the “Cause of God” or simply “the Cause,” and call fellow adherents “the Friends” (these terms usually appear in lowercase in this book with the same meaning). Baha’is “teach” the faith rather than preach or proselytize, according to their own terminology, and potential converts who are studying the Baha’i faith are called “seekers.”
Behai is an old-fashioned spelling of Baha’i, and Baha’is were some-times called Behaists (e.g. the Society of Behaists, which was a Baha’i denomination until about 1950). These forms are now obsolete. The term Baha’ism was commonly used through the early to mid 1900s as a noun to refer to the Baha’i religion—and it is used by some of the writ¬ers in this book—but this term fell out of favor, especially among Ba¬ha’is. It continues to be used occasionally by non-Baha’is in academic contexts.
Although Baha’is typically capitalize the word Faith in “the Baha’i Faith,” this book generally refrains from such parochial usage, because the capitalized term is also used by most Baha’is today to refer to their membership-based religious organization, thus conflating the faith tradition with its currently normative administrative form. To refer to the Baha’i religion itself—including any and all organized manifesta¬tions it has had or may have, as well as aspects of the religion that do not depend on any organization—the lowercase Baha’i faith will be used, much as one would commonly refer to the Christian faith or any other faith.
This book mostly defers to established Baha’i spelling conventions in English. Exceptions include cases where the subject is more com¬monly known outside the Baha’i faith by a different spelling or variation of the name; this applies to historical figures and geographical location Also, in cases where individuals are known to have used or pre¬ferred a particular form of their name in English, or if their descendants use it, that choice will be respected and adhered to in this book. For example, the younger sons of Baha’u’llah used the surname Bahai, and their family and Mends spelled their names Mohammed Ali and Badi Ullah when writing in English, and most people appended the title Ef- fendi to their names according to the customary mode of address for gentlemen in early 20th century Palestine. This differs in every respect from how present-day Baha’i publications refer to these men. To assist Baha’i readers who might be confused by such differences, the “official” Baha’i spellings and versions of names are given parenthetically or in footnotes.
Throughout this book, diacritical marks are omitted from com¬monly used words such as Baha’i, Baha’u’llah, the Bab, etc. They are also omitted in cases where their presence would not be particularly helpful or necessary for the average English speaker to pronounce a word cor¬rectly (e.g. Mfrza, ‘Abbas, ‘Ali, Shirazi, etc.), but are retained where their absence would likely lead to mispronunciation.
In all of the primary source documents and out-of-print texts in¬cluded in this book, spelling and capitalization have been regularized according to the standards and practices of this editor as described above. In quotations from sources with active copyrights, the original text is reproduced without change.
—The Editor


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