From Nabi (Prophet) and Rasul (Messenger) to Mazhar-i Ilahi (`Manifestation of God'):
A Babí-Bahá'í Trajectory through the Biblical-Islamic Prophets and Messengers

By Stephen Lambden

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #102
Bosch Baha'i School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 18–22, 2011
(see list of papers from #102)

    "God... created 124,000 nabí (prophets) and I [Muhammad] am the most noble of them... and God created 124,000 wasi (successors) and `Alí is the most noble of them..."
    (Muhammad through Imam Rida' cited Bihar 2 11:30-31).
    "God raised up a black prophet (nabi an aswad) whose story he did not relate unto us. The traditions (al-akhbar) differ as to the number of the prophets (al-anbiya'). Some have related that their number is 124,000 while others have it that the number of the prophets is 8,000; 4,000 coming from the children of Israel and 4,000 from elsewhere with a "sign" (bi-ayah)... with a miracle and a proof (Imam `Ali cited Majlisi in Tabarsi's Majma` al-bayan; Bihar 2 11: 21).

    The Qur'an and other Islamic sources contain specific record of around twenty-eight major prophet figures between Adam and the Prophet Muhammad. Their names, dates, biographies and special messages as well as those of other worthies, sages and revolutionaries supplementary to them, are spelled out in numerous Jewish, Christian and Islamic sources including the Bible and the Qur'an. Islamic literatures include a large number of volumes of Qisas al-anbiya' (Stories of the Prophets) compilations of legendary accounts of prophets and related sacred writings. Such texts have been written in Arabic, Persian and Turkish.

    The narrative portions of the Qur'an are mostly concerned with the pious example of twenty four or so all male prophet figures directly named therein (Q. 6:84-9; 21:48-91.). As noted this number has traditionally been slightly extended to twenty-seven or eight by the addition of a few persons not directly named in the Qur'an such as Seth and Ezra. Very loosely chronologically arranged one form of the traditional Islamic list of prophets is as follows: (01) Adam. (02) Seth. (03) Enoch. (04) Noah. (05) Hud. (06) Salih. (07) Shuayb. (08) Abraham. (09) Isaac. (10) Ismail. (11) Lot. (12) Job. (13) Jacob. (14) Joseph. (15) Moses. (16) Aaron. (17) David. (18) Solomon. (19) Elijah. (20) Elisha. (21) Dhu'l-Kifl. (22) Jonah. (23) Ezra. (24) Luqman. (25) Dhu'l-Qarnayn. (26) John the Baptist. (27) Jesus and (28) Muhammad. Baha'i sources respect and draw upon this list although the traditional number of around twenty-eight prophet figures was vastly expanded in both Islamic and Babi-Baha'i sources. The Qur'an itself holds that God sent a nabi, rasul and / or a nadhir ("warner") to every people (Q.10:48) to deliver a clear message (al-balagh al-mubin, Q. 29:18b; 35:24; 10:47; 40:28) Various Sunni and Shi`i traditions speak of 124,000 bearers of the divine message, a number of whom, often 313 or so, were reckoned rasul (loosely, "sent Messengers").

    Though some have viewed all the prophets and messengers of God as essentially equal some figures, such as Jesus of Nazareth (d. c. 33 CE) or Jesus Christ the Messiah, have been regarded as especially important because they have been allocated subordinate divinity, regenerative powers or are numbered among such as are "constant in faith", the ulu al-`azm or "possessors of steadfastness". Certain great Messengers were the special conveyors of a binding law or legal code. Others were viewed as anbiya' (prophets) under the guiding protection of greater Messengers or Manifestations of God (mazahir-i ilahi). A few in the Qur'an are described as both nabi (prophet) and rasul (Messenger) and five or more are regarded by Baha'is as divine Manifestations of God (mazahir-i ilahi). Baha'is believe that all these past figures were sent by the one God to all humanity for a particular purpose. Their messages diverge since they were line with the human capacity of the ages in which they lived.

    Baha'is very frequently use the phrase (Per.) "mazhar-i ilahi," or "Manifestation of God," alternatively, "divine theophany." This Persian phrase was not invented by the Bab or Baha'u'llah. It has an interesting pre-history in Islamic prophetology and theology. In this paper the history of this phrase will be examined as will something of the lives of those reckoned prophets or Manifestations of God in Babi-Baha'i and other sacred writings. Something of the history of such figures will be presented and legendry elements identified. The terms nabi and rasul as well as "mazhar-i ilahi," or "Manifestation of God," will be succinctly expounded as will the Baha'i transcendence of the Qur'anic-Islamic phrase "seal" ( for many = "last") of the prophets (khatam al-nabbiyyin)".

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