Scripture as Literature
The Writings of Bahá'u'llah in their Literary Context
By Frank Lewis
Presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #2 (English)
Bahį'ķ National Center: Wilmette, Illinois, US
March 25-27, 1994.
Presented Saturday, 10:30-11:15
The writings of Mírzá Husayn-'All Núrí, Bahá'u'lláh (1817-92), are said to number about 15,000 books and letters, and constitute the primary scripture of the Baháíí religion. Because of Bahá'u'lláh's claim to be a Manifestation of God (mazhar-i-ilahí), His Writings have been studied, like most scripture, primarily for their theological and doctrinal content. The literary qualities of His writings, unlike the literary qualities of the Qur'án, have been largely taken for granted, perhaps because there is no formal parallel in Baháíí belief to the Islamic doctrine of i'jáz al-Qur'án. Many literary, cultural-historical and theological questions arise when we look at Bahá'u'lláhís scripture in terms, not solely of the religious canon (the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, the Qur'án), but in terms of the Persian and Arabic literary tradition.
This paper examines several of Bahá'u'lláhís works, including Kalimát-i-Maknúnih (The Hidden Words), Haft Vadí (The Seven Valleys), and Qasídiy-yi-Varqá'íyyih, all of which are acknowledged as revealed texts, in the context of literary history, tracing a few of the prominent motifs or genres and indicating how they fit into and resonate with the prior literary tradition.
The paper concludes that the development of a deeper understanding of Bahá'u'lláh's works in the context of the Perso-Arabic literary tradition would be valuable for the following reasons:
1) By understanding the literary background of scriptural texts Concluding the history of words, motifs and genres that appear in them), obscure points or statements In Bahá'í scripture can often be elucidated, by providing an appropriate context for interpretation.
2) A proper appreciation of the literary achievement of Bahá'u'lláh's works will help win a place for them in the study of Persian and Arabic belles-letteres, calling them to the attention of individuals who might not be interested in them as religious texts.
3) Because more is known about the literary and cultural milieu that. shaped the forms and styles in which Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation was expressed, study of the ways in which the genres and motifs of Persian and Arabic literature are employed and reworked in Bahá'í scripture may provide models for understanding how the literary milieus into which the Qur'án, the Gospels and the Hebrew Bible contributed to the formation of those scriptures.
This paper attempts to trace the genres and styles of various parts of the corpus
of Bahá'í scripture to antecedent models in Judeo-Christian and Islamic sacred
texts, as well as in Persian and Arab literary texts. It argues that knowledge of
the specific scriptural or literary models appealed to by certain Bahá'í texts will
provide a deeper understanding of the theological import of those texts.
Furthermore, because more is known about the literary milieu in which
Bahá'u'lláh's texts were revealed, studying the intersection of Bahá'í scripture
and its literary background may help illuminate, by way of comparison, the
literary influences which gave shape to the form and style of the Hebrew Bible,
the Gospels and the Qur'án.
In the mid-14th Century AD, the Italian poet Petrarch wrote of his courtly love for Laura (from Sonnet No.47):
Bendetto sia'l giorno e'l mese et l'anno
e la stagione e'l tempo et l'ora e'l punto
e'l bel paese e'l loco ov'io fuit giunto
da'duo begli occhi che legato m'ąnno
Every English-speaking Bahá'í child will find these lines of Petrarch, once
rendered into English, have a remarkably familiar ring:
Blessed be the day and the month and the year
and the season and the time and the hour
and the instant and the beautiful countryside
and the place where I was struck by the two
lovely eyes that have bound me.(2)
A Bahá'í reader will hear echoes of a prayer attributed to Bahá'u'lláh,(3) which
shares a parallel rhetorical structure and even some of the imagery of a passage
adorning the title page of the common English-language Bahá'í prayer book:(4)
Blessed is the spot, and the house,
and the place, and the city,
and the heart, and the mountain,
and the refuge, and the cave,
and the valley, and the land,
and the sea, and the island,
and the meadow where mention
of God hath been made,
and His praise glorified
This uncanny resemblance is in all likelihood a mere coincidence, but it
highlights the essential poetic or literary quality of the prayers, letters, treatises
and books written by Mirzā Husayn-'Alī Nūrī (1817-92), known to history as
Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'ís, of course, believe that Bahá'u'lláh was a Manifestation (zuhūr), or major prophet, of God and that the corpus of his writings constitute
a revelation (wahy) from God. Among the community of his followers, this
speech is endowed with supernatural qualities and therefore enjoys sacred status
as scripture. Nevertheless, there is the recognition that the Manifestation must
pour divine truth into a particular form, shaped by the vessel of language in which
it is contained, which in the case of Bahá'u'lláh's scripture happens to be Arabic
and Persian. This paper will attempt to uncover some of the particular literary
models which Bahá'u'lláh has chosen as the frame of expression for his
revelation or scripture.
Scripture versus literature
Christians have worried for several centuries about the relationship between
pagan literature and scripture and the confluence of both the Jewish and the
pagan Hellenistic traditions in the formation of Christian culture. Konrad of
Hirsau, who died about 1150 AD, recounts that a pupil once asked a teacher to
prove that it is not harmful to study the pagan Latin and Greek authors and poets,
whereupon the teacher replied:
Would you reject the writings of Moses and the Prophets because in places they borrow words and expressions from pagan writers? Have I not already told you that all that is true that has ever been said by any human beings or all that is correct that has ever been thought has come from Him Who created us?(5)
In the Islamic context, the doctrine of the inimitability of the Qur'án, I'jāz
al-Qur'án, began to take shape in the 10th century AD, with Arab theologians
and rhetoricians holding to the notion that the Qur'án itself was a miracle, either
because of its contents or because God prevented Muhammad's contemporaries
from composing a stylistically similar work. Indeed, the word āyat, or verse of
scripture, is the same word as that used for a divine sign or miracle. The Qur'án
came to be seen as an uncreated work, the exact words of which were recorded
in a heavenly tablet (lawh mahfūz), which was so lofty in its phrasing and its
content that mere mortals could not imitate it.(6) There is some justification for this view in the Qur'án itself, but it seems clear that Muhammad himself recognized the roots of his rhyming prose style (saj') in the prognostications of sooth-sayers
(kāhin, kuhhān) and the considerable body of stories about Moses, Abraham,
Jesus and the other Semitic prophets from Biblical and Midrashic sources and
from Arab folklore. The particular form and expression of the truths of the
Qur'án, therefore, is indebted to the literary milieu in which it was revealed,
though Muhammad frequently points out that the revelation of the Qur'án is not
to be confused with the mere speech of poets, soothsayers and storytellers.
In the Bahá'í context, we do not find exact parallel to the doctrine of the
inimitablity of the Qur'án. The Báb, criticized by the Shiite clergy for his
occasional failure to conform to the expected norms of Arabic grammar, replied
this way in the First Chapter of the Second Vāhed of the Persian Bayān:
va agar nokte-giri dar e'rāb-e qarā'at yā qavā'ed-e 'arabiye shavad, mardud ast zirā ke in qavā'ed az āyāt bar dāshte mi-shavad na āyāt bar ānhā jāri mi-shavad
And if exception be taken on the basis of vocalization of the text [e'rāb-e qarā'at denotes how the short vowels, not written down in Arabic script, are pronounced, which affects issues of conjugation and declension] or the rules of Arabic grammar, it is groundless, for such rules are derived from revealed verses, nor do revealed verses flow forth according to them.(7)
Indeed, Arab grammarians of the eighth to tenth century AD cited the
Qur'anic text as an authority for unusual grammatical formations, as it was by
then considered matchlessly eloquent and a touchstone text to exemplify correct
Arabic usage. The Báb, therefore, suggests in the above passage that, instead of
criticizing his grammar, his readers should look to the status of the Bayān as
revelation from God, and, as such, its grammar should not be criticized but
emulated. Also in the First Chapter of the Second Vāhed of the Persian Bayān,
the Báb alludes to the doctrine of the inimitability of the Qur'án:
khodāvand Qor'ān rā be-a'lā 'olovv-e fesāhat nāzel farmud va u rā mo'jeze-ye Rasul Allāh qarār dād...khodāvand-e 'ālam kalemāt-e qor'āniye rā be-sha'ni nāzel farmude ke agar mā 'alā al-arz jam' shavand va be-khwāhand āye dar moqābel-e āyāt-e qor'ān biāvarand, nemitavānand(8)
The Lord revealed the Qur'án in the utmost perfection of eloquence and established it as a miracle of the Messenger of God...the Lord of the World sent down the Qur'anic words in such manner that should all who are on earth gather together in the desire to produce a verse comparable to the verses of the Qur'án, they could not do so.
This test of inimitibality or the miraculous quality of revealed language is
also applied to the Bayān, citing as proof of its divine origin the fact that a
thousand lines (bayt) are revealed by the pen of the Báb in the space of five
hours, so quickly in fact that the scribe can barely take them down.(9)
The Báb did, indeed, adduce the speed with which he revealed verses as
proof of his divine inspiration, and echoed the doctrine of Qur'anic inimitability
with respect to his own writings:
In this Revelation the Lord of the universe hath deigned to bestow His mighty utterances and resplendent signs upon the Point of the Bayan, and hath ordained them as His matchless testimony for all created things. Were all the people that dwell on earth to assemble together, they would be unable to produce a single verse like unto the ones which God hath caused to stream forth from the tongue of the Point of the Bayan. Indeed, if any living creature were to pause to meditate he would undoubtedly realize that these verses are not the work of man, but are solely to be ascribed unto God, the One, the Peerless, Who causeth them to flow forth from the tongue of whomsoever He willeth, and hath not revealed nor will He reveal them save through the Focal Point of God's Primal Will. He it is, through Whose dispensations divine Messengers are raised up and heavenly Books are sent down. Had human beings been able to accomplish this deed surely someone would have brought forth at least one verse during the period of twelve hundred and seventy years which hath elapsed since the revelation of the Qur'án until that of the Bayán. However, all men have proved themselves impotent and have utterly failed to do so, although they endeavoured, with their vehement might, to quench the flame of the Word of God.(10)
Though Bahá'u'lláh occasionally echoes this idea, and Shoghi Effendi does make
a similar point about the speed with which Bahá'u'lláh revealed his books and
tablets - just two days and two nights in the case of the Kitáb-i-Iqán - there is no
fixed doctrine of Bahá'u'lláh's writings as inimitable. In a letter dated 13 May
1953, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian and authorized interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's
writings, describes Bahá'u'lláh's teachings as having "matchless potency,"(11) and elsewhere speaks in passing of "His matchless utterance,"(12) but he has also called Tahirih's poems "matchless"(13) and evaluated the Kitáb-i-Iqán, as did E.G. Browne before him, in terms of its literary qualities. The Guardian writes:
A model of Persian prose, of a style at once original, chaste and vigorous, and remarkably lucid, both cogent in argument and matchless in its irresistible eloquence, this Book, setting forth in outline the Grand Redemptive Scheme of God, occupies a position unequalled by any work in the entire range of Bahá'í literature, except the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh's Most Holy Book.(14)
In this description, Shoghi Effendi concurs with E.G. Browne's high estimation of the Iqān in his A Literary History of Persia. Browne hailed the Iqān as a model representative of the neo-classical "Return" movement (bāz-gasht) in 19th century Persian literature, which aspired to the simplicity and concision of pre-Mongol Persian prose. In contrast to the "flabby, inflated, bombastic style" characterized by much of the intervening period, Browne gives high praise to the Iqān:
Yet simplicity and directness is to be found in modern as well as in ancient writers of Persian verse and prose; the Ķqán ("Assurance") of the Bábís, written by Bahá'u'lláh about AD 1859, is as concise and strong in style as the Chahár Maqála, composed some seven centuries earlier.(15)
Scripture as Literature
In the comments that follow, I would like to explore the intersection of literature
and scripture a bit further, approaching the writings of Bahá'u'lláh as revealed
texts in dialogue with the literary traditions of Iran and the Arab world. There is
nothing new in this approach to scripture; for over a century, scholars have
attempted to understand the various books of the Hebrew Bible, such as the
wisdom literature of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, the liturgical literature used at
temple services found in the Psalms, etc., in terms of their genres or forms. Form
criticism, like many other modern approaches to the Bible, was pioneered by
Germans who attempted to identify the genre, or "gattung," to which specific
books of the Bible conform, as well as the real-life context or purpose, "sitz-im-leben," to which they respond. As John Barton defines it:
A Gattung or genre is a conventional pattern, recognizable by certain formal criteria (style, shape, tone, particular syntactic or even grammatical structures, recurring formulaic patterns), which is used in a particular society in social contexts which are governed by certain formal conventions.(16)
By knowing the genre and social purpose of a particular passage of scripture (was
it a personal letter, public sermon, liturgical text, etc.), one might gain insight into
the framework of expectations an ancient reader brought to that particular text
and thereby better understand what it might originally have meant to her.
There are several reasons I propose that we should consider Bahá'u'lláh's
revealed works in this light:
- By placing Bahá'u'lláh's works in their historical and literary context and understanding what generic conventions they follow or break, we can better understand what they meant in their original context and what they might mean for us today.
- Read as a philosophical or spiritual genre of literature, as many secular non-believing people now read the Bible or the Qur'án, several of the works of Bahá'u'lláh are of a literary quality that ought to secure for them a place in the pantheon of 19th century Persian and Arabic literature.
- Because we possess a large body of texts and other documentary evidence about the literary and theological traditions of 19th century Iran, we know much more about the literary matrix from which Bahá'u'lláh's revelatory texts were born than we do about the literary milieu in which the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Qur'án appeared. By tracing how Bahá'u'lláh's writings have incorporated and reworked the prevailing literary and theological traditions of his day into scripture, we may come to better understand the process of moulding a scriptural tradition from a literary tradition and discover comparative models or data that may illuminate the shaping of the styles the Bible and the Qur'án assumed.
God's logos, man's lingo
A theological objection was, of course, raised to the method of form criticism in
the Judeo-Christian tradition. Whereas literature is a human product, and human
authors are obviously influenced by the literary history that proceeds them, God
(as speaker of the Qur'án, for example) is unconstrained by such human
limitations.(17) However, a theological response to this would be that by choosing to speak in human language (rather than, let's say, by intuition or visual signs) the
infinite accepts the constraints and limitations of human readers, and must
perforce accommodate itself to human literary and linguistic conventions. If it
failed to do so, it could not be understood. Indeed, Bahá'u'lláh, himself, operates
on this very assumption, explaining that divine Revelation assumes a form other
than its pure state in order that mortal beings may understand. For example, from
These words are to your measure, not to God's. To this testifieth that which is enshrined within His knowledge, if ye be of them that comprehend; and to this the tongue of the Almighty doth bear witness, if ye be of those who understand. I swear by God, were We to lift the veil, ye would be dumbfounded.
hādhā dhikrī 'alā qadrikum lā 'alā qadr Allāh. Yashhadu bi-dhālika mā fī 'ilm Allāh law antum ta'rifūn wa yashhadu bi dhālika lisān Allāh law antum tafqahūn. Tallāh law nakshifu al-hijāb antum tansa'iqūn.
and again, from The Hidden Words (Kalemāt-e maknune):
All that I have revealed unto thee with the tongue of power, and have written for thee with the pen of might, hath been in accordance with thy capacity and understanding, not with My state and the melody of My voice.(20)
Kullumā nazzaltu 'alayka min lisān al-qudrat wa katabtuhu bi-qalam al-quwwat qad nazzalnāhu 'alā qadrika wa lahnika, lā 'alā sha'nī wa lahnī
The word lahn, which essentially means "tune" or "melody," is translated by
Shoghi Effendi, in his capacity as Guardian and authorized interpreter of
Bahá'u'lláh's writings, in its second occurrence in this passage as "the melody of
My voice" and in the first instance as "understanding." Thus, revelation, in what
amounts to a normative statement of Bahá'í doctrine, is seen as a melody or
language or accent, as it were, comparable to the language of mankind, not to that
of God, and therefore obviously susceptible to the influences of human forms of
Scripture quoting scripture
That Bahá'u'lláh was familiar and conversant with the literary history of Persian
and Arabic is abundantly clear from even a cursory examination of his writings.
He makes references to lines of verse from a number of Persian poets and makes
ample and powerful use of the symbols of his literary tradition. Though not
formally educated in a madrese, Bahá'u'lláh was tutored at home and was
familiar with his culture, which was and continues to be heavily influenced by its
literary and specifically poetic heritage. Thus, although Bahá'u'lláh states that
"we perused not the books which men possess and we acquired not the learning
current amongst them," nevertheless, he explicitly tells us in the Lawh-i-hikmat
(Tablet of wisdom):
whenever we desire to quote the sayings of the learned and of the wise, presently there will appear before the face of Thy Lord in the form of a tablet all that which hath appeared in the world and is revealed in the Holy Books and Scriptures. Thus do We set down in writing that which the eye perceiveth.(21)
Kullumā aradnā an nadhkura bayānāt al-'ulamā' wa al-hukamā' yazharu mā zahar fī al-'ālam wa mā fī al-kutub wa al-zubūr fī lawhin imāma wajh rabbika, narā wa naktub...
Bahá'u'lláh's writings, much of which have yet to be published, are believed
to number about 15,000 documents, including prayers, letters, epistles, tablets
and books in Persian and Arabic, all of which are regarded as divinely revealed
scripture. For the purposes of this paper (and following the periodization of
Qur'anic verses as Meccan or Medinan), Bahá'u'lláh's writings can be broadly
divided into two periods: the first from his imprisonment in 1852 through the end
of his stay in Baghdad; and the second from the public announcement of his claim
to be a Manifestation of God in 1863 to the end of his life in 1892. The latter
period includes among other categories, tablets proclaiming to the kings, rulers
and clergy of Europe and Islamdom the advent of his Revelation; the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, a book which establishes new laws for the Bahá'í community, abrogating
much of the Islamic and Bábí sharī'a; and a series of tablets and epistles
variously called lawh, sūra, risāla, which outline his blueprint for collective international security and world government.
This last category does not have a strong Islamic prototype - indeed, it
appeals more to the spirit of the 1815 Congress of Vienna and Immanuel Kant's
1795 tractate Perpetual Peace: a Philosophical Sketch (Zum ewigen Frieden:
Ein philosophischer Entwurf) than to Islamic tradition. However, it ought to be
mentioned in this context that Abu al-Fazl (1551-1602), the vizier of the Moghul
emperor Akbar, in his court history Akbar-nāme includes the phrases solh-e koll,
meaning tolerance for all and being at peace with all others, and mahabbat-e koll,
meaning universal love in which the welfare of all people, irrespective of their
religion is fostered, which seem to presage Bahá'u'lláh's vision of the lesser and
most great peace (solh-e asghar, solh-e akbar).
The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, on the other hand, is clearly conceived as being in the
genre of previous scriptures - the greater Book of the people of the Book,
particularly the Qur'án - which it mirrors stylistically by jumping from one
subject to another, sometimes without apparent logical order. Bahá'u'lláh's
tablets to the rulers of the world,(22) meanwhile, clearly appeal to the tradition
preserved by Ibn Ishāq, the biographer of Muhammad, that the Prophet sent
emissaries to the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, the Persian Shah, Khosrow, and
various Arab potentates calling them to Islam.(23)
Certain phrases can be seen to have Biblical literary precedents, such as Bahá'u'lláh's frequent:
bude va hast va khwāhad bud
as it was, is and ever shall be
which recalls Revelations IV:8:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
or the Gloria Patri in the Book of Common Prayer:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.
There is likewise the despairing lament of Bahá'u'lláh's "Fire Tablet" (qad
ihtaraq al-mukhlisūn), "How long...," which also occurs in similar contexts
approximately thirty times in the Psalms, e.g., Psalm 6:4 and Psalm 13. Then
whole sentences are sometimes borrowed from the Hebrew or the Arabic
translations of the Bible with which Bahá'u'lláh would have been familiar,(24) such
as Psalm 51:12, which in the King James Version reads: "Create in me a clean
heart, o God and renew a right spirit within me," which is, of course, simply an
older (and to my ear, inferior) translation of the Guardian's rendering of one of
Create in me a pure heart, O my God, and renew
a tranquil conscience within me, O my Hope!
Bahá'u'lláh's writ and its literary matrix
It is not surprising that the motifs and stylistics of scripture would find their way
into Bahá'u'lláh's writings; after all, he sees his writings as a new chapter in the
book of scripture. Perhaps somewhat less expected, though, are quotations from
the works of poets, mystics and philosophers which punctuate Bahá'u'lláh's
writings, in typical epistolary style, especially in the early period of 1853-1863.
Unlike Muhammad, revelation seems to have come at will to Bahá'u'lláh; even
though his revelations, considered as divinely revealed or sent down (manzul),
apparently differed from normal speech or thought, some passages speak in the
voice of God and others in Bahá'u'lláh's own voice. Nevertheless, all are
accorded the status of revelation, even those texts dating to the period before
Bahá'u'lláh's public claim to be a Manifestation.
The earliest text in Bahá'u'lláh's corpus seems to be a nineteen-line Persian
poem in the Sufi tradition entitled Rashh-e 'amā (Sprinklings form the Cloud of
Unknowing) dating to 1269/1852-3, which contains the refrain (radif) "it pours
from us" (-e mā mi-rizad), as in the opening line:
rashh-e 'amā az jazbe-ye mā mi-rizad
From our rapture the sprinkles of the cloud of unknowing trickle down(26)
Persian poets prior to Bahá'u'lláh, from the Safavid period onward, had used this
refrain, as in the last line of the following poem by Sā'eb (1607-1675):
mi-shavad da'vi-ye khun ruz-e qiāmat Sā'eb
rang-e har gol ke ze nazzāre-ye mā mi-rizad
There will be a bloody fight on the day of Judgement, Sā'eb
over the colour of every rose that fades under our gaze(27)
A 217-line poem in Arabic, complete with auto-commentary bearing the
Persian title Qaside-ye varqā'iye (The Dove Ode) was written between 1270-1272/1854-6 for a certain Shaykh Ismā'íl, the head of the Khalidiya branch of the
Naqshbandi Sufis, who had made Bahá'u'lláh's acquaintance in the mountains
of Iraqi Kurdistan,(28) and, being impressed with his piety and knowledge, requested him to write a qasīda in imitation of the famous "Tā'īyat al-kubrā," or Magnificent Ode rhyming in "Ti," by Ibn al-Fārid (576-632/1181-1235),
composed 600 years earlier.(29) In such poems, Bahá'u'lláh incorporates Bábí theology and a measured Sufi vocabulary which steers away from the monism or pantheism of both wahdat al-shuhūd and wahdat al-wujūd ("oneness of Being and Manifestation") varieties without making a contentious doctrinal issue of it.(30)
Throughout their ministries, Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and also Shoghi Effendi wrote a great number of personal confessional prayers (monājāt), a genre of Persian prose canonized by the eleventh century Sufi of Herat, 'Abd Allāh Ansāri (1006-1088 AD). In some Bahá'í monājāt (also called do'ā, as opposed to obligatory prayers, or namāz) the echoes of quotations or near-quotations from earlier Islamic prayers or poems can occasionally be heard, for example, in the prayer-like tablet of 'Abdu'l-Bahá beginning "Ay jān feshān-e yār-e bi-neshān,"(31) which quotes a line of verse from the famous 13th century poet of Shiraz, Sa'di:
'āqelān-e khushe-chin az serr-e Layli ghāfel-and
in karāmat nist joz Majnun-e kherman suz rā(32)
who but glean the fields of love
of Layli's secret
who scorches his whole harvest
Of course, this quote conjures up a whole range of associated images from the
cycle of stories about the star-crossed lovers, Layli and Majnun, just as a single
sentence from Juliet to Romeo - "Swear not by the moon, th'inconstant moon,"
let's say - would conjure up the important senses of Shakespeare's play for an
In the early period Bahá'u'lláh also revealed a series of esoteric
commentaries (tafsir) on various verses or Suras of the Qur'án and the New
Testament, usually written in response to questions or requests submitted to him.
The most notable of these is the Kitáb-i-Iqān, which expounds Bahá'u'lláh's
doctrine of progressive revelation by focussing on the passage in the Qur'án
(33:40) on the "Seal of the Prophets" (Khātam al-nabiyīn), as well as the passage
in Matthew (24:29-31) about the Son of Man coming in the Clouds of Glory.
Although the Qur'án commentary genre usually set out to cover the entire
Qur'án verse-by-verse, there are a few works, such as Ibn 'Arabī's thirteenth-century work, Fusūs al-hikam (Bezels of Wisdom),(33) and some of Mullā Sadrā's
treatises (b. Shiraz ?, d. Basra 1050 /1640), which treat specific themes in the
Qur'án or single verses,(34) as does the Kitáb-i-Iqán.
Likewise, in the Lawh-e Ra'is, where Bahá'u'lláh describes a puppet show
he viewed in his youth, in which all the pomp and glory of the material world and
all the important personages were laid to rest in a box by the puppeteer at the end
of the show, the conclusions he draws from this event may be shaped somewhat
by the Oshtor-nāme, traditionally attributed to the famous Farid al-Din 'Attār (d.
618/1221),(35) who describes a Turkish puppet player folding all the puppets into
the box of tawhid, or Divine unity, after the performance.
Also from the Lawh-e Ra'is is this quotation from the poet Sanā'i (d.
Hakim Sanā'i 'alayhe al-rahmat gofte:
pand girid ay siāhi-tān gerefte jā-ye pand
pand girid ay sepidi-tān damide bar 'edhār
The sage Sanā'i has said:
Take counsel, all you more blackened than counselled!
Take counsel, o you whose beards begin to whiten!
According to the modern edition of his collected poems (Divān), the second
hemistich of this poem is somewhat incorrectly quoted in Seven Valleys ('ozr ārid
"seek forgiveness" is given rather than pand girid "take counsel," though it has
little change on the overall import of the verse).(36) Sanā'i was received as a mystic
and homiletic poet by the later literary tradition, though he also wrote much
profane poetry, as well.(37) The Mevlevi tradition understood Sanā'i, along with
'Attār, to be the poetic and spiritual predecessors of Jalāl al-Din Rumi, and as
such, quoting Sanā'i situates one's remarks in the Persian gnostic tradition. This
is the third line of a very famous poem and Bahá'u'lláh's quotation of it would
probably call to the mind of an educated 19th century reader the two previous
lines of the poem, as well:
ay khodāvandān-e māl al-e'tebār al-e'tebār
ay khodā-khwānān-e qāl al-e'tezār al-e'tezār
pish az ān k-in jān-e 'ozr āvar foru mi-rad ze notq
pish az ān k-in chashm-e 'ebrat bin foru mānad ze kār
O lords of wealth, take heed, take heed!
O you who call on God in pretense, repent, repent!
Before your forgiveness-seeking soul falls forever silent
before your lesson-learning eye closes forever shut
Perhaps the most interesting work of Bahá'u'lláh, at least insofar as genre
studies are concerned, is his Hidden Words (Kalemāt-e maknune), a work of
rhymed prose composed/revealed in 1274/1858 while Bahá'u'lláh was in
Baghdad. Though conceived as an organic unity, Kalemāt-e maknune consists of
short independent ethical and mystical counsels, 71 in Arabic and 83 in Persian.
This book was originally known by the Bábís among whom it circulated in
manuscript form as the Sahife-ye Fātemiye (The Book of Fatima), thus
identifying it with the Twelver Shí'í tradition of the moshaf Fāteme (scroll of
Fatima), a series of inspiring thoughts supposedly whispered into the ear of
Fatima by an angel to console her upon the death of her father - the Prophet
Muhammad. The scroll of Fatima was believed to be handed down by the Imams
from generation to generation along with the weapons of the Prophet. Of course,
we do not now possess any such text, if it ever did exist, so that we have here a
curious case of intertextuality with a non-textual text, or more precisely, the
apocryphal tradition of a text. Thus the name - "Hidden Words."(38)
The Arabic introduction to the Kalemāt-e maknune alludes to this tradition
and to the revelations that Bahá'u'lláh had received:
hādhā mā nuzzila min jabarūt al-'izzat bi lisān al-qudrat wa al-quwwat 'alā al-nabiyyīn min qablu wa innā akhadhnā jawāhirahu wa aqmasnāhu qamīs al-ikhtisār fadlan 'alā al-ahbār
This is that which hath descended [nuzzila, also "hath been sent down"] from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might and revealed unto the prophets of old. We have taken the inner essence thereof and clothed it in the garment of brevity as a token of grace unto the righteous....(trans. of Shoghi Effendi)
Although The Hidden Words can be seen in the broader context of wisdom
literature (hekam, andarz) and the homiletic tradition, especially the counsels of
'Alī as related in the Nahj al-balāgha, it is specifically, though not explicitly, to
the Hadīth qudsī, or sacred hadith, that The Hidden Words appeal. Generally held
by Muslims to be the direct word of God, though not necessarily miraculous in
nature as is always maintained for the verses of the Qur'án, the hadīth qudsī were
a favourite source of allusion for Sufis and Persian poets. They are often prefaced
by addresses such as yā 'ibādī (o My servant), yā ibn Ādam (o son of Adam), etc.
In the Kalemāt-e maknune, we find these addresses, and others similar to them:
yā ibn al-insān, "O son of Man" (an appellation of Christ in the Bible); yā ibn al-rūh, "O son of Spirit;" yā ibn al-wujūd, "O son of existence." In addition to thus
echoing the addresses of the hadīth qudsī, The Hidden Words also reflect their
themes and counsels. Take, for example, the following Arabic passage:
Yā ibn al-insān: kuntu fī qidam dhātī wa azaliyyat kaynūnatī 'araftu hubbī fīka khalaqtuka wa alqaytu 'alayka mithālī wa azhartu laka jamālī
O Son of Man! Veiled in My immemorial being in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for Thee, therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty. (trans. of Shoghi Effendi)
This passage ought to bring to mind the famous hadīth qudsī:
kuntu kanzan makhfīyan fa ahbabtu an 'urafa fa-khalaqtu al-khalq likay u'rafa
I was a hidden treasure and desired to be known, hence I created the creation in order to be known
There are numerous other parallels of this sort. For example, another of
Bahá'u'lláh's Hidden Words alludes to the same hadith, though with the love of
God for man, rather than the love of God for God foregrounded (on which, see
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions):
yā ibn al-insān, ahbabtu khalqaka fa-khalaqtuka fa-ahbibnī kay adhkuraka wa fī rūh al-hayāt uthabbitaka
O Son of Man! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill they soul with the spirit of life.
Compare also the following hadīth qudsī:
rasūl Allāh qāla: qāla Allāh: anfiq yā ibn Ādam unfiq 'alayka
The Messenger of God said: "God has said, 'O Son of Adam! Spend upon (my creatures) that I may spend upon thee.'"
and the following Hidden Word:
unfiq mālī 'alā fuqarā'ī li tunfaqa fī al-samā' min kunūz 'izzin lā tafnā wa khazā'in majdin lā tablā wa-lākin wa 'umrī, infāqu al-rūh ajmal law tushāhidu bi 'aynī
Bestow my wealth upon my poor, that in heaven thou mayest draw from stores of unfading splendour and treasures of imperishable glory. But by My life! To offer up thy soul is a more glorious thing couldst thou bu see with Mine eye. (trans. of Shoghi Effendi)
There are parallels between The Hidden Words and the Qur'án, as well:
wa idhā adhaqnā an-nās rahmatan farihū bihā wa in tusibhum sayyi'atun bimā qaddamat aydihim idhā hum yaqnatūn (Q30:36)
When we make men to taste of a blessing they rejoice at it, but if evil befalls them because of what their own hands have wrought, then they despair.
yā ibn al-bashar in asābatka ni'matun la tafrah bihā wa in tamassaka dhillatun la tahzan minhā lianna kiltayhimā tazūlāni fī hīnin wa tabīdāni fī waqtin (HW, Arabic 52)
O Son of Man! Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more. (trans. of Shoghi Effendi)
And finally, consider this hadīth qudsī:
yā 'ibādī innī harramtu al-zulma 'alā nafsī wa ja'altuhu baynakum muharraman fa lā tazālamū
...O My Servants! I have forbidden oppression to Myself and have made it unlawful to you, therefore be not an oppressor one to another...
in light of this Persian Hidden Word (#64):
ay zālemān-e arz! az zolm dast-e khod rā kutāh namā'id ke qasam yād nemude-am az zolm-e ahadi nagozaram va in 'ahdi-st ke dar lowh-e mahfuz mahtum dāshtam va be khātem-e 'ezz makhtum
O Oppressors on Earth! Withdraw your hands from tyranny, for I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man's injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed it with my seal of glory.
The Persian Hidden Words are even more intriguing than the Arabic from a literary point of view, in that they tend to be less proverbial and more esoteric, more firmly rooted in the later tradition of rhymed prose (saj'), and frequently allude to well-known motifs and episodes from Persian poetry. Although perhaps the greater portion of his writings are in Arabic, it is primarily from the Persian literary tradition, as opposed to the religious literature of Arabic, that Bahá'u'lláh's writings draw their motifs and models (with some exceptions, such as the Lawh-i Sultān). His early Persian prose works should be read in the light of the Sufi literary tradition, particularly as found (or at least as popularly received) in the major classical poets: 'Attār, Sa'di, Rumi and Hāfez, scattered lines of whose verse are quoted here and there in Bahá'u'lláh's epistolary works, especially Haft vādi (Seven Valleys). There is surprisingly little stylistic influence from Bábí texts, though a good deal of terminology and doctrine come from those sources. Similarities with the philosophical and theological prose tradition, particularly the illuminationist school, which tended to blend literary and philosophical prose, can also be found. It should be further remembered that Persian poets and prose writers in the 19th century had rejected the ornateness of the Indian style (sabk-e hendi) and had called for a return (bāz gasht) to the models of the 11th-13th centuries. Bahá'u'lláh's prose language in the Persian Hidden Words suggests the influence of Sa'di's Golestān and Ansāri's Monājāt; undoubtedly additional examples and parallels can be isolated. The themes and motifs, on the other hand, were those that had saturated later Persian literature, and could be evoked by elliptical allusions that would resonate with and perhaps call to the reader's mind an elaborate series of associations, as in the first Persian Hidden Word, which reads almost like a catalogue of classical motifs:
ay sāhebān-e hush
avval sorush-e dust in ast
ay bolbol-e ma'navi
joz dar golbon-e ma'āni jāy ma-gozin
va ay hodhod-e solaymān-e 'eshq
joz dar sabā-ye jānān vatan ma-gir
va ay 'anqā-ye baqā
joz dar qāf-e vafā mahall ma-pazir
in ast makān-e to
agar be lā-makān be par-e jān bar pari
va āhang-e maqām-e khod rāyegān namā'i
All Ye people that have minds to know and ears to hear: The first call of the Beloved is this: O Mystic nightingale! Abide not but in the rose-garden of the spirit. O Messenger of the Solomon of love! Seek thou no shelter except in the Sheba of the well-beloved, and O immortal phoenix! Dwell not save on the mount of faithfulness. Therein is thy habitation, if on the wings of the soul thou soarest to the realm of the infinite and seekest to attain thy goal. (trans. by Shoghi Effendi)
In the following Persian Hidden Word, the gnomic tradition (andarz) in Persian
literature, which stretches back at least into Sasanian and probably into Parthian
times, is clearly evident. This example, like most of the Persian Hidden Words,
echoes with the aphoristic rhymed prose of Sa'di's Golestān::
Ay dust dar rowze-ye qalb joz gol-e 'eshq makār
va az zayl-e bolbol-e hobb o showq dast madār
mosāhebat-e abrār rā ghanimat dān
va az morāfeqat-e ashrār
dast o del har do bar dār
O friend! in the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love, and from the nightingale of affection and desire, loosen not they hold. Treasure the companionship of the righteous and eschew all fellowship with the ungodly. (trans. by Shoghi Effendi)
The following (and final) example subtly alludes to the legends about the Prophet
Muhammad's ascent into heaven (me'rāj):
ay pesar-e hobb
az to tā rafraf-e emtenā'-e qorb
va sedre-ye ertefā'-e 'eshq
qadam-e avval bar dār
va qadam-e digar bar
ālam-e qedam gozār
va dar sorādeq-e khold vāred show
ānche az qalam-e 'ezz nozul yāft
Here I am using my own translation to emphasize certain points of the me'rāj
O Son of Love
you are but one step away from the rafraf
that will take you to the impenetrable heights of nearness
and the lote tree of the boundary of love
Take the first step
and with the second step
step into the world of pre-existence
and the pavilion of eternity
to what has been revealed by the Pen of Might
Here the reader is being told that s/he, too, can aspire in her own spiritual journey
to repeat Muhammad's ascent to heaven (me'rāj) on the rafraf, which can mean
pillows or cushions, but since the Arabic root R-F-F has the connotation of
flapping wings, these cushions are like flying carpets. Most versions of the legend
have Muhammad riding on a mythical beast, Burāq, a kind of winged donkey (an
iconographic association with the Messiah riding into Jerusalem on an untamed
ass) provided by the angel of Revelation, Gabriel. The rafraf will take us beyond
the sidrat al-muntahā, the lote tree beyond which there is no passing. During his
me'rāj, Muhammad came within two bows' lengths of this tree and, as stated in
a passage of the Qur'án (53:1-18), gazed upon it with unswerving eyes (mā
zāgha al-basar) only to see that it was shrouded in mystery (idh yaghshā al-sidrata mā yaghshā, literally: when the lote tree was covered by what covered it).
These verses of the Qur'án have been greatly elaborated in non-canonical
materials called the stories of the prophets (qisas al-anbiyā), similar to the Jewish
haggadah, in order to round out the story. In the Sufi tradition, the light (nūr) of
Muhammad's worship is what covered the tree.
Although Muhammad was unable on his me'rāj (ascent to heaven) to
advance beyond the sacred precincts of the sidrat al-muntahā, the lote tree
beyond which there is no passing, Bahá'u'lláh tells us that we - the sons of love
('eshq, a term used technically by Sufis since the 2nd/9th century to mean the
mystic love of God, though exoterically it continues to mean romantic human
love, as well) - can take two steps beyond this, into the pre-eternal realm, where
God's covenant was made with the soul, and into the eternal pavilion, where,
according to Sufi interpretation, man will actually see God, a blessing that was
denied to Moses on Sinai. This, of course, is a metaphoric journey that takes
place in the believer's heart, the same journey that Shams al-Din of Tabriz urged
Jalāl al-Din Rumi to take in the 13th century:
To follow Mohammad is this: He went on the me'rāj, you, likewise, must go in his footsteps. Strive to attain [this] abode in your heart.(39)
Though Bahá'u'lláh invokes the Sufis' mythopoesis of the beatific vision of God
in eternal paradise, God is ineffable, and cannot be seen or heard, as we know
from numerous other tablets of Bahá'u'lláh. The human point of contact with the
divine is through the revealed text, that which is revealed by the Pen of Might,
and it is through what it has revealed that we make our internal ascent unto God.
Scripture, then, which as we have seen flows in and through the medium of
human language and literature, is man's vehicle (rafraf) to God. Having been
transported by it to the proximity of the divine, however, we must take our own
steps to reach the sanctum sanctorum.
As Bahá'u'lláh states elsewhere, man could not bear the direct knowledge
of the divine transcendence, so God reveals only a relative truth to man, that
which can be understood in the form of human language. This is all that man
requires to make that extra two-step leap into the pre-eternal and infinite realm.
As the epilogue to the last Persian Hidden Word states:
I bear witness, O Friends! that the favour is complete, the argument fulfilled, the proof manifest and the evidence established. Let it now be seen what your endeavours in the path of detachment will reveal. In this wise hath the divine favour been fully vouchsafed unto you and unto them that are in heaven and on earth.
Bahá'u'lláh was not, of course, the first to employ this me'rāj topos and its
associated imagery. Though many modern post-secular Iranian readers would
have to consciously excavate the rafraf passage to discover its leitmotif, the topos
was a favourite of many pre-modern poets and was so ingrained in the Persian
poetic consciousness that it would have been immediately obvious to an initiated
reader. Sanā'i alludes to the same topos in this line from his Sayr al-'ebād elā al-ma'ād (The worshippers' journey to the promised here-after) with which
Bahá'u'lláh's just-quoted Hidden Word seems to resonate:
su-ye shahr-e qedam qadam bar dār
khāne-ye ostokhwān be-sag bogzār
Take a step toward the city of pre-existence
Leave this house of bones to the dogs
Elsewhere, in his Hadiqat al-haqiqat (The Walled Garden of Truth), Sanā'i says:
az to tā dust nist rah besyār (from you to the Friend there is but a little way to go).
Literate versus literal readings of scripture
Despite these and numerous other examples, western Bahá'ís steeped in a
devotional approach to Bahá'u'lláh's texts in translation may insist that
knowledge of their literary context, while interesting, does not particularly
elucidate their functional import - the pragmatic implications of Bahá'u'lláh's
statements and their significance for Bahá'í law, ethics and daily praxis. It would,
however, be a great mistake to assume that only esoteric and symbolic allusions
are lurking in the literary sediment. Juan Cole has shown in his article "Problems
of Chronology in Bahá'u'lláh's 'Tablet of Wisdom'"(40) that echos of previous
works may sometimes give us clues about the nature of what is being said; we can
sometimes conclude on the basis of traceable allusions to previous works
(historical works in the above case) that what is being said is metaphorical and
historically or mythically-bound, statements that are truthful in a cultural context
without necessarily being factual in a scientific sense.
This can also be true in "legal" texts, as the following example from the
Kitáb-i-Aqdas illustrates, where, I think, it is necessary to know the Qur'anic
parallels in order to understand the full intent of Bahá'u'lláh's law. In the Aqdas
(verse 107), we find:
it is forbidden you to marry your father's wives
qad hurrimat 'alaykum azwāja abā'ikum
The Questions and Answers section indicates that the matter of marriage between
relatives is left to the House of Justice. This, of course, presents no particular
problem, until we ask if it is not strange that Bahá'u'lláh should specifically
forbid marriage to one's stepmother(s), while apparently neglecting to forbid
marriage to one's own mother or sister or daughter?
This dilemma can be easily solved if we assume that Bahá'u'lláh had in mind
the Qur'anic laws about marrying one's relatives, found in Sura 4 (Sūrat al-nisā'). Recall that the Qur'án appears to allow the espousal of four wives
simultaneously. However, specifically excluded from matrimonial possibility are
the wives one's father has married, i.e., one's stepmother(s), like the text of the
Aqdas. The Qur'án, however, then launches into a much longer list in the next
verse that includes mothers, daughters, sisters, father's sisters, mother's sisters,
brother's daughters, sister's daughters, wet-nurses, foster-sisters, wives' mothers,
stepdaughters, daughters-in-law and two sisters. Indeed, if we compare the
passages, we find that the Qur'án verse begins with the same wording employed
in the Aqdas (hurrimat 'alaykum). This, then, is an instance where quotation from
a previous work apparently intends for us to summon up similar semiotically
proximate passages which are not explicitly quoted. With one word, "wives,"
Bahá'u'lláh summons up the entire list of the Qur'án, given in two longish
verses. Hence the meaning and content of the previous text, in this case the
Qur'án, bleeds somewhat into the meaning and intent of Bahá'u'lláh's text, and
we must be cognizant of the provenance of the quote in order to recover the full
context of meaning.
Indeed, many readers have expressed difficulty in understanding why the
Kitáb-i-Aqdas jumps from one subject to the next without any obvious logical
connection. The principle of organization animating the style of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas can be seen in the literary model of the Qur'án. Indeed, a secretary writing
on behalf of Shoghi Effendi singled out this non-linear structure as distinctively
Qur'anic and characteristic of divine revelation in general for a western Bahá'í
apparently confounded by the style:
All Divine Revelation seems to have been thrown out in flashes. The Prophets never composed treatises. That is why in the Qur'án and our own Writings different subjects are so often included in one Tablet. That is why it is "Revelation."(41)
While it is true that the Aqdas was revealed piecemeal, Bahá'u'lláh (unlike
Muhammad, who did not himself collect the Qur'án in written form) could have
organized it logically, section by section, point by point, much as the treatises and
manuals on Islamic law (fiqh) were organized. But the language of God does not
flow according to the language of men, as we have seen in the beginning. To
follow such a logical plan of organization would have evoked associations of the
genre of systematic law books, the class of clerics and knowledge acquired by
years of academic study. Bahá'u'lláh, who insists that he has not studied law and
theology, appeals instead to the structure of the Qur'án with its juxtapositions,
pericopes and disjunctions, as is appropriate to the claim that God has revealed
Scholars have already focussed a great deal of attention on the literary
criticism of the Hebrew Bible. The various approaches of source criticism, form
criticism and redaction criticism have taught us a great deal. More recently
Robert Alter and Meir Sternberg have devoted attention to the narrative and
poetic art of the Hebrew Bible, while Frank Kermode and others have done the
same for the New Testament. Such approaches will undoubtedly prove quite
useful in deepening our understanding of Bahá'u'lláh's writings and how
meaning is internally produced in his texts. A pre-requisite to this avenue of
inquiry is a general understanding of the sources, forms and genres to which his
texts appeal. A similar process, as applied to the Hebrew Bible, has been
disparagingly described by Edmund Leach as "unscrambling the omelette."(42) We
might call this task sifting scripture, not in the culinary sense, but in the sense of
an excavation, a kind of literary archaeology, that seeks to recover parts of the
past lying just below the surface layers of the text and help us situate the meaning
of those scriptural artifacts in their literary context. In this respect, we might also
consider the etymology of the word "text", which denotes weaving of different
strands into a patterned whole. Scripture, of course, is experienced by the body
of believers as having a sacred texture, the fabric of which, though woven of past
and present, human and divine, knits together the hearts of the faithful in a new
- The basic ideas presented here were first set forth in a paper for a course at the University of Chicago on Bahá'ú'lláh's writings taught by my mentor and friend, Professor Heshmat Moayyad. That paper was presented at a Bahá'í history conference in 1985 and a substantially modified version of it was then delivered at the conference of the American Oriental Society in Chicago in 1987. A further version of the paper was delivered at the Hāj Mehdi Arjomand conference on scripture in Wilmette in 1994, and subsequently circulated on the Internet and made available on Jonah Winter's web site for Bahá'í academics. The present form of the argument, though not purged of all its oral features, supercedes all previous versions.
- Petrarch's Lyric Poems, trans and ed. by Robert M. Durling (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976) 138-9.
- Variously transliterated as Bahā' Allāh in modern scholarly convention and as Bahá'u'lláh according to the official Bahá'í convention.
- Bahá'í Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985). Though there is no reason to doubt the attribution of this prayer to Bahá'u'lláh, the Persian or Arabic original of the text has not, to my knowledge, been identified.
- Anders Piltz, The World of Medieval Learning, trans. David Jones (Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1981) 34, citing the following: R.B.C. Huygens, ed., "Dialogus super Auctores," Collection Lanonus 17 (1955): 52-3.
- See for example, al-Rummānī (d. 384/994), al-Nukāt fī I'jāz al-Qur'án; al-Khattābī (d. 386/996), al-Bayān I'jāz al-Qur'án; and al-Báqillānī (d. 403/1013), I'jāz al-Qur'án.
- E.G. Browne, "The Bábís of Persia. II: Their Literature and Doctrines," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 21 (1889): 918n1. See the reprint in Moojan Momen, ed., Selections from the Writings of E.G. Browne (Oxford: George Ronald, 1987) 224n1. The translation is my own, as I believe Browne has imperfectly understood the import of the word bar dāshte mishavad: to be lifted, taken from; Browne renders: "these rules are removed from [revealed] verses," but it does not here mean that revealed verses are exempted from grammatical rules, but rather that the proper rules of Arabic are deduced by the classical Arab grammarians from the revealed verses of the Qur'án (as well as pre-Islamic poetry). Therefore, the rules of grammar are "taken from" the example of scripture rather than scripture flowing forth according to the rules of grammar.
- Bayān-e Fārsi, n.p., n.d. (This edition was published by the Azalis in Iran).
- See Momen, ed. Selections from the Writings of E.G. Browne 325-6.
- From the Persian Bayān, II, 1 in Selections from the Writings of the Báb, trans. Habib Taherzadeh at al, (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1976) 104-105.
- "... placing their whole trust in the matchless potency of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings, in the all-conquering power of His might and the infallibility of His glorious and oft-repeated promises..." Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith: Messages to America, 1947-1957 (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1965) 120.
- "To emperors, kings, princes and potentates, to rulers, governments, clergy and peoples, whether of the East or of the West, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Zoroastrian, He addressed, for well-nigh fifty years, and in the most tragic circumstances, these priceless pearls of knowledge and wisdom that lay hid within the ocean of His matchless utterance." Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1941) 6.
- "Many are those whose conduct has been ennobled by her inspiring example, who have committed to memory her matchless odes..." Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974 [original edition in 1944]) 76-77.
- Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By 138-139.
- A Literary History of Persia, v. 2 (NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906) 89. Browne's dating of the text is slightly early; the actual date of composition appears to have been 1278/1861-2 as per the English translation of the Iqān (p. 226), though Fāzel-e-Māzandarāni in Asrār al-āsār (124 BE/1967) 1:267-8, argues for the date 1279 AH.
- John Barton, Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984) 32.
- Not all religious communities would conceive their scriptures in these terms, nor is any given religious tradition unified in its concept of scripture. For a synopsis of Jewish, Muslim and Christian attitudes toward scripture, see F.E. Peters, Judaism, Christianity and Islam: The Classical Texts and Their Interpretation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990). Cf., also W. Graham, Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
- Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1992) verse 176, p. 83.
- Kitáb-i-Aqdas [Arabic text] (Haifa, Israel: Bahá'í World Centre, 1995) 167-8.
- Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, trans. Shoghi Effendi (Hofheim-Langenhain, Germany: Bahá'í Verlag, 1983) Arabic #67 (Arabic and English text).
- Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh (revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas), trans. Habib Taherzadeh et al (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978) 148-9. For the original Arabic, see Majmu'e-i az alvāh-e Jamāl-e Aqdas-e Abhā (ke ba'd az Kitáb-e Aqdas nāzel shode) (Langenhain, Germany: Lajne-ye nashr-e āsār-e amri be-zabān-e Fārsi, 137 BE/ 1980) 89.
- Collected in English translation in The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh to the kings and leaders of the world (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1972).
- A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1967) 652-8.
- For an analysis of the theological role Bahá'u'lláh's quotations from the Gospels play in his teachings, see Juan Ricardo Cole, "Behold the Man: Bahá'u'lláh on the Life of Jesus," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 65.1 (1997): 47-71.
- Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations, trans. Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1938) #CLV, 248-9.
- See for the text and an excellent annotated translation, Stephen Lambden's "An Early Poem of Mírzá Husayn 'Alí Bahá'u'lláh," Bahá'í Studies Bulletin 3.2 (Sept. 1984): 4ff.
- Kolliāt-e Sā'eb, ed. Adibi Tehrāni (Tehran, 1362/ 1983) 393.
- See Juan R. Cole, "Bahá'u'lláh and the Naqshbandí Sufis in Iraq, 1854-1856," in Juan Cole and Moojan Momen, eds. From Iran East and West (Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 1984) 1-28.
- Compare the translation of Ibn al-Fārid offered by Reynold Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism (Cambridge University Press, 1921) 199-266, to the translation and exchange over Bahá'u'lláh's poem in the Bahá'í Studies Bulletin 2.2-4 (1983-84). For further information on Ibn al-Fārid, see Th. Emil Homerin, From Arab Poet to Muslim Saint (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1994).
- These doctrines are mentioned by name in Bahá'u'lláh's Haft vādi in Āsār-e qalam-e a'lā, v. 3, (Tehran?: Mo'assese-ye melli-ye matbu'āt-e amri, 121 BE/ 1964) 133. In the seventh and final valley of Absolute Poverty and True Nothingness (faqr-e haqiqi va fanā-ye asli) the seeker passes beyond the belief in these two views of reality. For the English, see The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, trans. Marzieh Gail and Ali-Kuli Khan (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1945 [revised edition, 1975]) 39.
- I do not recall seeing the text of this tablet in a printed work, but it circulates hand-to-hand among Iranian Bahá'ís in personal lectionaries, copied down from friends and/or in Bahá'í classes.
- Ghazaliāt-e Sa'di, v. 2 of Kolliāt-e Sa'di, ed. Mohammad-'Ali Forughi, introduction by 'Abbās Eqbāl (Eqbāl, 1363/1984) 10.
- Ibn al-'Arabī (560-638 / 1165-1240). For an English translation, see Ibn Al'Arabi: The Bezels of Wisdom, trans. R.W.J. Austin (New York: Paulist Press, 1980) and also, The Wisdom of the Prophets, trans from Arabic to French by Titus Burckhardt and from Frend to English by Angela Culme-Seymour (Aldsworth, Gloucestershire: Beshara Publications, 1975).
- See Fazlur Rahman, The Philosophy of Mullá Sadrá (Albany: Sate University of New York Press, 1975) esp. 16-20.
- It has been shown by Sa'id Nafisi, however, that this work is not by the famous 'Attār, but probably by an 'Attār of Tun living in the 15th century; see Nafisi, Jostoju dar ahvāl o āsār-e Farid al-Din 'Attār Nayshāburi (Tehran, 1320/1941) 145ff.
- Divān-e Abu al-Majd Majdud ebn Ādam Hakim Sanā'i-ye Ghaznavi, ed. M.T. Modarres-e Razavi, 2nd ed. (Ketābkhāne-ye Sanā'i, 1362/1983) 182.
- See Franklin D. Lewis, "Reading, Writing and Recitation: Sanā'i and the Origins of the Persian Ghazal," Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Chicago, 1995.
- Note that Fayz-e Kāshāni (1006-1090/ 1597-1679), two centuries earlier, had written a book by the title Kalemāt-e maknune, but it is more a philosophical work than a collection of spiritual and ethical aphorisms.
- From the collected discourses of Shams, only recently published in Iran: Maqālāt-e Shams-e Tabrizi, ed. Mohammad-'Ali Movahhed (Tehran: Enteshārāt-e Khwārazmi, 1369 / 1990) 647.
- World Order 13.3 (Spring 1979): 24-39.
- In a letter dated 8 January 1949 written to an English Bahá'í by a secretary of the Guardian published in The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá'í Community (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981) 454.
- Edmund Leach and D. Alan Aycock, eds. Structuralist Interpretations of Biblical Myth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) 3. Leach is actually referring to the modern scholarly endeavour of unscrambling those parts of scripture which are historically true or factual from those that are factually untrue. This approach he condemns for obscuring the religious truth that the texts convey and which was formerly understood.