From Alwáh to Ziyara:
The Literary Forms of the Writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #22
August 27–29, 1999
(see list of papers from #22)
The extensive Persian and Arabic writings of Sayyid 'Alí Muhammad, the Báb (1819-1850), and Mírzá Husayn 'Alí Núrí, Bahá'u'lláh (18171892), are extant in a variety of literary forms believed by their authors and by their followers (the Bábís and Bahá'ís) to encapsulate ahy ('divine revelation'). These revelations are sometimes identified by means of such time-honoured terms as Kitáb ("Book"), Lawh (pl. alwáh, "Tablet"), Surah (loosely "Chapter" and Sahífa ("Sheet," "Epistle")and so on, which often have their roots in Abrahamic ("Semitic") scriptural terminology and literatures. Born out of the Sh'i Islamic world, Bábí-Bahá'í scripture is most centrally and directly rooted in this Islamic literary heritage.
Both the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh variously identified the totality of their writings: among other terms the words sha'n (p]. shu'n, 'modes,' 'grades') and Bahán ('Exposition,' 'Clarification') are significant in this respect. They not infrequently gave specific designations and titles to revealed texts within their multifaceted writings. In his early Kitáb al-fihrist ('Book of the Index,' 1846 CE) the Báb actually lists his writings up to the time of composition in terms of their titles and date. A few examples of titles utilizing past terminology used in Bábí-Bahá'í in sacred writings are Sahífa bayn al-haramayn ('Epistle between the Two Shrines'), Lawh-i-'Ayyúb (=Surat al-Sabr), 'The Tablet of Job' (='The Surah of Patience'), Lawh-i-haft pursish ('Tablet of the Seven Questions'); Surat al-Huriyya ('The Surah of the Maiden'). Two hundred or more revelations of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh have specific author designated titles. In this paper the background, significance and translation of the varying terms used to identify their sometimes dictated revelations will be undertaken along with a brief overview of the novel forms or alternative forms of the basmalah ('In the name of...') and divine affirmation ('He is...').
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