Ask A Baha’i: Why is Publishing a Photo of Baha’u’llah Forbidden?
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Why is publishing a photo/image of Baha’u’llah forbidden?
It is not that the publishing a photo/image of Baha’u’llah is forbidden to Bahá’ís; rather, the image of Bahá’u’lláh is very sacred to Bahá’ís and they do not wish for it to be viewed and engaged with in a casual manner.
This is the authoritative guidance I’ve been able to find on the question:
- “There is no objection that the believers look at the picture of Bahá’u’lláh, but they should do so with the utmost reverence, and should also not allow that it be exposed openly to the public, even in their private homes.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, December 6, 1939)
- “For Bahá’ís, the photograph of Bahá’u’lláh is very precious and it should not only be viewed but also handled with due reverence and respect, which is not the case here [on a non-Bahá’í website]. Thus, it is indeed disturbing to Bahá’ís to have the image of Bahá’u’lláh treated in such a disrespectful way. However, as the creator of the site is not a Bahá’í, there is little, if anything, that can be done to address this matter. We hope these comments have been of assistance.”(Office for Public Information, 4 September 1999, Photo of Bahá’u’lláh on WebSite)
- “It would be good to advise the young Persian believer who has this picture that, while we do not wish to suggest that he should remove the photograph from his book, it would be inappropriate for him to show it to others in a casual manner. As you know, the photograph of Bahá’u’lláh is very precious and it should be handled with due reverence and respect.” (From a letter dated 7 February 1972 written by the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)
- “The portraits of the Bab and Bahá’u’lláh should be shown infrequently and on very special occasions, such as a special observance connected with an event intimately associated with the Forerunner or Founder of our Faith. …We do not think that the regular National Convention is such a special occasion, and we feel that the privilege of displaying these very precious portraits should not be abused.” (From a letter dated 12 July 1973 written by the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Panama)
That a picture is usually not included within book introductions to the Baha’i Faith, or its history, seems to come from a few concerns:
1) The image of Baha’u’llah is very holy to Baha’is and we wish not to cheapen it by casually disseminating it. Nonetheless, it is not considered a “sin” or “wrong” to view and some Baha’i households store reproductions of the original photographs of Baha’u’llah. However, it should be viewed with reverence and in great moderation, and so Baha’is do not hang such pictures on their home walls; rather, perhaps take them out for viewing only for unique events. Guidance also suggests it should only be viewed on very special occasions, such as sometimes the Holy Days associated with Baha’u’llah. Additionally, some Baha’is look forward to seeing the original photographs of Baha’u’llah on pilgrimage to Haifa and Akka while on pilgrimage.
2) Baha’is worship the Spirit of God, not a physical form, even that of a human being regarded as God’s promised Manifestation on earth. Baha’is do not artistically or otherwise create representation of any Messenger/Manifestation of God, whether Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, Zoroaster, etc. Nonetheless, Bahá’ís have produced theatrical plays and films related to the histories of the Báb or Bahá’u’lláh in which their presence is sometimes intimated without an actor playing the Messenger/Manifestation of God. A recent, well-made one is “The Gate: Dawn of the Bahá’í Faith”
3) There is a need to reproduce the originals in a very professional, careful manner, so that it is an accurate reproduction. There would be ways to do this, and published online or in a book on Baha’u’llah, using the originals found in the Archives at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa. However, that it has not been done yet is probably due to numbers one and two concerns above.
That Bahá’ís do not publish any of the two known photographs of Bahá’u’lláh online is also due to these three above concerns.
People who are not Bahá’ís have published reproductions of photographs of Bahá’u’lláh online or in book form, even while Bahá’ís would prefer that they do not. While the appearance of Bahá’u’lláh resembles that of the originals photographs in the archives of the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel, otherwise the quality and accuracy of these online and book reproductions are uncertain.
I would also recommend these answers to a similar question on Quora, from writers I respect:
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- Ask A Baha’i: Abrahamic Religions - February 10, 2021
- Ask a Baha’i: Meaning of Bahá’u’lláh’s Given Name - December 30, 2020
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- Ask A Baha’i: The Teachings of Jesus - July 17, 2020