Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Bahá’í Audio Books—Spreading the Word of God

For thousands of years, the spoken word has been the basis of religion. The ancient Jewish scriptures were memorised by generations of hereditary priests. Only part of the Torah was written down before the Babylonian conquest. The Qur’ān was primarily a chanted text, passed down orally from one generation to the next. Small fragments of the Qur’ān were written down on bones and leaves, but it was under the initiative of ‘Uthmān that the text was compiled in one volume. Nevertheless, the oral tradition continued and the various “readings” of the Qur’ān were passed from one ear to the next. The Vedas were also passed down orally. Now, we come to the Bábí and Bahá’í sacred writings. Were they also oral texts? Indeed they were. From the very first moment, the Báb chanted the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’, even as He wrote it simultaneously with His pen. Later on, He had an amanuensis who would write down what the Báb uttered. Bahá’u’lláh did write by hand at the beginning of His ministry, but later relied on an amanuensis as well, especially after His half-brother, Mírzá Yahyá, attempted to murder Him with poison. The effects of Yahyá’s perfidy left Bahá’u’lláh with a shaky hand for the rest of His life (though He did use that hand to write His own Testament, the Kitábu ‘Ahdí).

The spoken word is primal. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Those are the words of John (1:1). The Logos is the Primal Will of God that has existed for all time. While the Essence of God is utterly remote and inaccessible, He brought forth the Primal Will as the Agent that brought creation into being and speaks to us through Manifestations. It is this Eternal Logos, the Word of God, uttered in the time before time, in the beginning that hath no beginning, the everlasting “Kun” (Be!) and it is. It is this Primal Will whose existence the philosophers have proved through rational arguments, while God Himself is above such arguments, residing in the highest Kingdom, above the reach of even the Manifestations of God themselves. While it is not a literal word in the same sense as our human words, we are mirrors of the divine Reality and through human speech we can mirror forth the divine speech of God Himself.

The spoken word is thus a shadow of the Divine process of speaking, the creative utterance that generates all things. Speech is creative, even in human society. It is the basis of human communication, law, education, spiritual teaching, and relationships. While animals can communicate in a basic way, human speech is a remarkable sign of the potency of our souls, which distinguish us from animals (though in earlier stages our animal-like forms had not yet acquired the capacity, just as the embryo in the womb is still in development). Bahá’u’lláh says: “Consider the rational faculty with which God hath endowed the essence of man. Examine thine own self, and behold how thy motion and stillness, thy will and purpose, thy sight and hearing, thy sense of smell and power of speech, and whatever else is related to, or transcendeth, thy physical senses or spiritual perceptions, all proceed from, and owe their existence to, this same faculty.” (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 163) Speech, which is a manifestation of the uniquely human power of reason, is also the means by which we should spread the Faith of God and establish the new world civilization of Bahá’u’lláh. He writes: “We have ordained that complete victory should be achieved through speech and utterance, that Our servants throughout the earth may thereby become the recipients of divine good.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas, pp. 197-198)

While the spoken word can be as much a “smouldering fire” as it can be a fount of wisdom, I believe its importance cannot be underestimated. It is a duty of Bahá’ís, for instance, not merely to read the Writings to oneself, but to “recite” them out loud. Bahá’u’lláh says: “Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide. Whoso faileth to recite them hath not been faithful to the Covenant of God and His Testament, and whoso turneth away from these holy verses in this Day is of those who throughout eternity have turned away from God. Fear ye God, O My servants, one and all.” (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book, v. 149, p. 73) It is also a duty of parents to teach their children to recite verses out loud in Bahá’í Houses of Worship: “Teach your children the verses revealed from the
heaven of majesty and power, so that, in most melodious tones, they may recite the Tablets of the All-Merciful in the alcoves within the Mashriqu'l-Adhkárs” (The Kitab-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book, v. 150, p. 73)

I have been interested in making audio recordings for quite some time used to make recordings of some of my own stories on cassette tapes back when I lived in America. When I discovered LibriVox back in 2007, the first two books I decided to record were Dr. Esperanto’s International Language, a translation of Dr. Ludwik Zamenhof’s Unua Libro (First Book) on the international auxiliary language, Esperanto AND Isabella Brittingham’s The Revelation of Baha-ullah in a Sequence of Four Lessons. The latter was one of the earliest English books on the Faith and there was no standard way of spelling Bahá’u’lláh at the time (Baha’o’llah was also common because Iranians pronounce the Arabic short u like o). If you don’t know already, LibriVox is a wonderful project to record every book (yes every book) in the public domain. There are already countless thousands of scanned and transcribed books available at Gutenberg and the Internet Archive. However, reading books on a computer screen is tiresome and scrolling through pdf scans of 19th century works difficult. LibriVox volunteers bring these books to life by creating public domain recordings that anyone can download for free, copy, distribute and share—completely legally. There are already 3,000 books in the LibriVox catalogue, most of which are in English.

There are a few places where you can find free Bahá’í audiobooks. There are some available at the Bahá’í Audio Readings RepositoryBahá’í Study Centre (is this link not working now?) and Voices Divine .  You can find Arabic recordings of the Most Holy Book here. There are also a few places where you can buy professional Bahá’í audiobooks, such as Hear the Writings.com and the Bahá’í Service for the Blind. Though not in audio format, Bahá’í eBooks Publications is also interesting. Nevertheless, the best place for Bahá’ís who want to create new audiobooks is LibriVox. LibriVox allows volunteers to set up projects to record any book they want, as long as it is public domain in the United States (published before 1923). There are many Bahá’í books which are public domain, including all the original Arabic and Persian writings of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Shoghi Effendi’s writings are not yet in the public domain however. Nevertheless, there is great potential for Bahá’ís to get involved and record early English works as well as Persian and Arabic Bahá’í writings. Anyone who has a voice can get involved in LibriVox. You don’t have to be a technical whizz or a professional voice artist. Everyone is welcome and no one will judge you based on your reading style or accent. LibriVox needs more Bahá’ís and everyone can help either by recording or proof listening.

I have already recorded several Bahá’í works, which you can download and listen to:

The Bahai Revelation by Thornton Chase
In Galilee by Thornton Chase
The Revelation of Baha-ullah in a Sequence of Four Lessons by Isabella D. Brittingham
The Arabic Hidden Words (an early translation) by Bahá’u’lláh
The Persian Hidden Words (an early translation) by Bahá’u’lláh

These were collaborative projects:

An Ode by Táhirih
Ode to Bahá’u’lláh by Nabíl-i-A'zam
New Year Greeting by Louise R. Waite

The following projects are in progress:

Talks by Abdul Baha Given in Paris by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ‘Abbás (solo project, but proof listener needed)
A Year Amongst the Persians by E. G. Browne (a group project, please volunteer!!!)

We do need volunteers for A Year Amongst the Persians and I urge any Bahá’ís reading this to jump in straight away and record. You’ll enjoy the experience and learn a lot along the way. In conclusion, there is much to be done to advance the cause of Bahá’í Audio Books and your help is needed. We are a grassroots Faith and the creation of Bahá’í audio books can result from grassroots action. Let’s do this!

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