Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #26 (English)

Bosch Bahá'í School: California USA

November 26–28, 1999.

Journey Through The Four Valleys, A

by Ghasem Bayat

One of the writings of the Blessed Beauty revealed during the Baghdad era was the epistle known as The Four Valleys. In a brief examination of this book we will comment on its composition, form, principal message, and the teachings it enshrines, and focus on some of its features that distinguish it from Islamic mystic writings.

This epistle, which dates prior to the Blessed Beauty's formal proclamation of His message, was addressed to the leader of the Qádiríyyih sect (a Sufi Order), Shaykh 'Abdu'r-Rahmán of Karkuk, a city of Iraqi Kurdistan. This unique epistle forms a part of a category of scriptures known as the attractive writings, which includes The Hidden Words, The Book of Certitude, The Essence (Gems) of Mysteries, The Ode of Varqá'íyyih, and The Seven Valleys. This epistle, which has a similar form to The Seven Valleys, was revealed in a masterful style, with eloquent composition and in extreme brevity, in apparent conformity to the traditions, beliefs and the language common amongst the Sufís. Thus it makes full use of the poetry, stories, and traditions common in the mystic writings of Attar, Mawlaví, Láhíjí and others. Yet this epistle stands apart from all mystic writings in its purpose, message, and the meanings intended for the parables, stories, and poems quoted in the book.

One of the distinguishing features of this epistle, reviewed in this short article, is that its words are not those of the advice of a mystic, guiding the wayfarers in their quest to be united with God. In this epistle, the Ancient Beauty sets out the object of the spiritual quest of man to be the recognition of His station and obedience to His laws. Therefore it is His voice that addresses mankind, calling them to His presence. This reconciles the hopes and aspirations of the faithful of all religions for the coming of their respective Promised One with those of the mystics' goals. As such, all allegories, stories, poems, and traditions quoted in the book relate to Him and direct one's attention to Him; hence, they take a different and a more direct meaning contrary to those intended in mystical writings.

In addition, the four valleys in the context of this epistle do not imply a method for systematic efforts on behalf of the believers to spiritual progression as might be understood from The Seven Valleys or the writings of the mystics. This epistle contains a general invitation to all believers, in whatever stage of spiritual awareness they may be, to recognize one of His stations relevant to them. Thus it contains advice and guidance to all at whatever stage they may be. The believers are classed in four groups, namely, those that are focused on Self, Wisdom, Love, and Spirit. All are given divine assistance to recognize four of the manifold stations of the Manifestation of God, which are His Self, His Wisdom, His Love and His Spirit. These stages in man's spiritual consciousness and the manifold stations of God's Manifestation's are beautifully explained and elucidated in this epistle, using allegories pertaining to holy places and to philosophical arguments. So everyone is given a share of this spiritual bounty according to his or her capacity.

Finally, this epistle confirms that all these manifold stations of God's Manifestation are all valid and true, and sufficient for each man's spiritual salvation relative to each person's station. The message that spiritual truth is relative and not absolute is reiterated here, thus eliminating another excuse for those who seek arguments and conflicts when faced with differences in perspectives and beliefs.

An in-depth study of this epistle will give the seeker a full measure of the spiritual bounties of God's Revelation.


Journey Through The Seven Valleys, A

by Ghasem Bayat

This epistle of the Blessed Beauty was addressed to Shaykh Múhyi'd-Dín, the judge of Khániqayn, a town northeast of Baghdad near the Iranian border, and was revealed during the Baghdad era circa 1862 A.D. It is in the language of the Sufís and in accordance to their customs and traditions. It forms a part of a category of scriptures known as the attractive writings, which includes The Hidden Words, The Book of Certitude, The Essence (Gems) of Mysteries, The Ode of Varqá'íyyih, and The Four Valleys.

The Manifestations of God throughout the ages have introduced mankind to Their Messages gradually. Furthermore, these Messages have been tailored according to the exigencies of time and environment, the customs, the traditions, the language and the common understanding of the people for whom they were intended. These two unalterable principles have remained the singular approach of the messengers of old, and the way Their Divine Messages were communicated. Thus the first principle covers the method of teaching and the second the form the words of these Luminaries assume. The vast ocean of the Revelation of the Cause of God in this age demonstrates the application of these principles.

We will take a short journey through this exciting epistle, briefly demonstrating these principles and its teaching content. The full measure of its spiritual delight will be for those who embark on an in-depth study of the epistle.

Although this epistle is revealed in an eloquent language and is composed in a masterful style, with beauty and brevity, its poems, traditions, words of wisdom, and stories can be traced throughout the mystic writings of Attar, Mawlaví, Láhíjí and others. These subject matters deal superficially with the description and the titles of various stages of mystic journeys as well as with the process and the prerequisites that a wayfarer must go through.

This epistle, though bearing a superficial resemblance in form, composition, and apparent content to Islamic mystic writings, stands apart in its purpose, meanings, and claims. Some of its distinctive features that form the subject matter for this essay on The Seven Valleys are as follows:

First, the Islamic mystic writings are the words of mystics who guide seekers in their spiritual quest to progress towards the goal of becoming one with God. The Seven Valleys, on the other hand, are the words of the Divine, proclaiming His manifestation in the Kingdom of man, calling the believers to His Divine Presence. This message is lucid on occasion and is, at others, wrapped in allegories and symbolic terms, and yet it is unmistakably clear when taken as a whole in this book. The object of the ancient quest of the mystics in becoming one with God is changed at a stroke to that of the recognition of God's Mouthpiece and His Manifestation for the age. This unites the Object of the hopes and expectations of the faithful throughout the ages with those of the mystics in the Person of God's Manifestation.

Second, it seems that this book has an apparent similarity with Islamic mystic writings, such as their form, stories, traditions, poems, descriptions and titles of each stage of the mystics' quests, but this is not so. An in-depth study of this epistle reveals that the context and the intended meaning of every tradition, poem and story quoted by the Blessed Beauty is to point to His Person and to His Revelation. Thus, the above resemblance also remains superficial, as each story and poem and tradition is given a new meaning and purpose.

Last, but not least, the entire writings of Bahá'u'lláh, irrespective of the time of their Revelation, language, and form of composition, are in harmony of purpose and all contain elements of the Teachings of the Faith. This epistle also contains the seeds and the essence of a great number of the Teachings of the Faith quoted in various degrees of clarity. In this article we will quote some examples of the Teachings that were elucidated in greater detail in the subsequent writings of the Blessed Beauty.

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Mystical Themes in the Tablets Revealed During the Baghdad Period: Gems of Mysteries, Maid of Heaven, Ode of Varqá'íyyih, Tablet of All Food

by Muin Afnan

Poem of Rashh-i-'Amá

This poem is perhaps the first extant Tablet of Bahá'u'lláh revealed in the Siyáh-CháI of Tehran shortly after the experience of divine Revelation. We know from what Nabíl has recorded that there had been many other writings from Bahá'u'lláh prior to this poem, but so far they have not been found. Also, based on some of the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, before Bahá'u'lláh's banishment from Iran, He had written a number of Tablets to the Báb but had dispatched them in the name of Yahyá Azal.

Although this Tablet is a short poem of twenty verses, it contains some of the most profound concepts of Bahá'í theology, viz., the concept of God as the divine Essence, the Manifestation of God as the Primal Will of God, and so forth. The beauty of imagery and the depth of spiritual knowledge that Bahá'u'lláh has disclosed in these twenty verses are astounding. It makes allusions to His station, the Day of God, and the blessing bestowed upon creation in this New Age. Alluding to His station, Bahá'u'lláh employs terms such as the appearance of the Maiden of Heaven, Arabian Melody, blasting of the Trumpet, the burning Bush, and so forth.

Tablet of All Food

This Tablet is a commentary on the verse (3:93) of the Qur'án where it is said: "All food was lawful to the children of Israel save that which Israel forbade himself before the Torah was revealed." Muslim commentators over the years have written explanations on this verse focusing on the laws concerning certain foods. Bahá'u'lláh took a symbolic and figurative approach in explaining this verse.

In addition to explaining the historical background of this Tablet, Mr. Adib Taherzadeh has given some of the meanings of the word "Food" offered by Bahá'u'lláh, viz., the spiritual worlds of Háhút, Lahút, and so on. (Vol. 1 of The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh). Therefore, I will not repeat those concepts that Mr. Taherzadeh has already explained. However, in addition to the concepts mentioned above, Bahá'u'lláh gives four distinct explanations for the terms "Food," "Israel," and "Children of Israel." A brief description follows:

1. "Food" is a reference to All Knowledge or Essence of Knowledge; "Israel" is a reference to the Primal Point, meaning the Manifestation of God; "Children of Israel" is a reference to the Laws of God. Therefore, according to this interpretation the Qur'ánic verse is explained as: People were permitted to pursue all forms of knowledge save that which the Manifestation of God had forbidden, i.e., that which was outside the laws of God.

2. The second explanation is in connection with the expectations regarding the coming of the Báb and appearance of "Him Whom God shall make manifest": "Food" is recognition of the Manifestation of God; "Israel" is the Primal Will of God, the Agency through which God has created the heaven and the earth; "Children of Israel" is the servants of God that have been attracted to the Fire of that Primal Will in the year sixty (1260 A.H., 1844 A.D.) until the Day when God revives people, i.e., until the Promised One, "Him Whom God shall make manifest" appears (again, please note the use of the word "Fire" in reference to the Manifestation of God).

3. The third interpretation: "Food" is the Guardianship of God over His creation through His Prophets; "Israel" is The Point of Furqan/Qur'án, meaning the Words of God; "Children of Israel" are the true successors to the Manifestation of God:

4. The fourth interpretation: "Food" is that hidden Sea which is veiled in the Tablets of Light (reference to essence of God); "Israel" is the station of the Manifestation of God; "Children of Israel" are the people of Bayan (Bábís), who if they wanted could ascend to the heaven of mercy and drink from the cup of purity, meaning with purity of motive and effort they could recognize the Promised One of the Bayan (Bahá'u'lláh). These are but a few of the symbols that Bahá'u'lláh has explained in this weighty Tablet.

Qasidiy-i-Varqá'íyyih

This ode is a masterpiece of mystical discourse revealed as poetry. Revealed in Arabic during Bahá'u'lláh's sojourn in Sulaymáníyyih, originally it consisted of about two thousand verses. The mystics of Sulaymáníyyih had requested Him to compose a mystical poem in the style of the ode of Tá'íyyih of the celebrated Egyptian poet Ibn-i-Faríd, a feat which in their estimation no one else had been able to accomplish.

Bahá'u'lláh selected 127 lines from His long ode and presented them to the mystics. They acclaimed his ode as far superior to that of Ibn-i-Faríd in terms of meaning as well as the literary style.

Qasidiy-i-Varqa'iyyih is in the form of dialogue between Bahá'u'lláh and the Huri, Maiden of Heaven. Addressing the Húrí, Bahá'u'lláh recounts the calamities He has endured in the path of Divine Beloved and the cruelties He has suffered at the hands of the enemies. This ode is replete with references to a host of subjects from Qur'ánic verses and traditions to mystical themes, and from Biblical prophets to allusions regarding His station. This ode demonstrates the relationship between Bahá'u'lláh and the Maiden of Heaven which is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Bahá'u'lláh and the Húrí take turn addressing each other in fascinating mystical terms. At the end of the ode Bahá'u'lláh and the Húrí speak with a single Voice and address the believers.

Tablet of the Maiden

One of the most fascinating Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh is the Tablet of Húrí or Maiden of Heaven. It is truly a masterpiece of mystical and literary writing. After praise and glorification of God, the Tablet starts with description of beauty of the Maiden of Heaven who appears to Bahá'u'lláh. He converses with the Húrí and at the insistence of Húrí describes His afflictions. At the same time He discloses his station to the Maiden from which she finds indescribable joy. However, once she discovers the extent of His afflictions, she cannot bear to live any longer. This is one of several Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh in which the symbol of Húrí, Maiden of Heaven, has been used; understanding of these mystical writings requires an in depth comparative study of these writings.

Javahiru'l-Asrar

This book was written some time before the book of Certitude; in the latter Bahá'u'lláh has referred to it as the "Arabic Tablets." The first portion of it is similar to the book of Certitude: Bahá'u'lláh quotes from the Bible, the Qur'án, and the traditions in order to give the proofs of the new Revelation, explain pre-requisites for searching truth, and so on. For instance, He explains the meaning of the coming of the Son of Man in clouds accompanied by angels.

From the content, we can venture a guess about the type of questions Hájí Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfáhání, to whom this Tablet is addressed, must have asked. He was concerned with the signs of the coming of the Promised One, the stages of search, distortion of Holy Books, and other topics similar to those treated in the Book of Certitude.

Siyyid Muhammad must have had mystical tendencies. Bahá'u'lláh uses a mystical language in this Tablet. For example, we come across terms such as Veiled Maidens, Black Dust, Crimson Earth, Thrones of Lahút and Jabarút, Egypt of 'Ama, and so forth.

In the latter section of the Book, similar to the Seven Valleys but in brief form, Bahá'u'lláh describes the pre-requisites for search and the stages of the mystic path. The names and orders of the seven valleys described here are slightly different from those in the book of The Seven Valleys.

Bahá'u'lláh must have been surrounded with enemies at this time, as He makes references to enemies who were actively plotting against Him.


Ode of Varqá'íyyih, The

by Brian Miller

The revelation of Bahá'u'lláh's great ode in Arabic to the Maid of Heaven, known as the Qasídiy-i-Varqá'íyyih, constitutes the defining moment of Bahá'u'lláh's sojourn in Sulaymáníyyih, a period described by the Blessed Beauty himself as "the greatest testimony to the truth of this revelation." The impact it had was dramatic on those at whose request it was revealed. For them it was powerful evidence and sure proof of the miraculous powers and lofty spiritual station of its Author. We shall examine both the mystical significance of these sacred verses and their poetic features so that we may better appreciate this remarkable poem and the impact it had upon those who first heard it recited by the lips of the Blessed Beauty. In its beauty and artistry lie clues to its enduring power and its mystical significance. For not only does it provide a glimpse into the depths of Bahá'u'lláh's divine vision, but it is also a singular achievement in the history of Arabic literature and poetry in particular. In order to demonstrate this, we will examine its poetics in close comparison with its antecedents in the poetry of the great Egyptian master, Ibn al-Faríd.


Seven Valleys of Bahá'u'lláh and Farid ud-Din Attar

by Sheila Banani

This mystical work, written by Bahá'u'lláh in the late 1850's before his proclamation, follows his period of withdrawal and seclusion in the mountains of Kurdistan. The seven stages (valleys) is a traditional Eastern mystical concept used to delineate aspects of the spiritual path to God. Bahá'u'lláh's The Seven Valleys is an original work conveyed in the form of a commentary on existing mystical poetry. The metaphor of seven valleys is found in the famous late twelfth-century work of Farídu'd-Dín-i-'Attár called The Conference of the Birds. Comparisons will be made between the two works.

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Tablets Enunciating the Three Realms of God, Manifestations and Creation

by Habib Riazati

One of the distinctive features of the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh is clear delineation of the three realms of existence and clarification of our relationship with each one of them. This aspect of the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh differentiates the Bahá'í belief system from the basic tenets of Mysticism and various schools of sophism.

The Tablets of Lawh-i-Kullu't-Ta'ám (Tablet of All Food), Lawh-i-Haq (Tablet of Truth) and Madínatu't-Tawhíd (Tablet of the City of Unity) will be examined for the explanation of the three Realms of God and their Relationship to one another.


Tablets Revealed on the Topics Related to Covenant, Tests, and Difficulties

by Habib Riazati

A number of Tablets revealed in Baghdad period deal with distinctive features of the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh and various aspects of the Covenant. They also cover such other topics as tests and tribulations and the difficulties that the believers will be encountering and have to endure.

These Tablets are Madínatu'r-Ridá (City of Radiant Acquiescence), Súriy-i-Sabr (Patience) or Lawh-i-Ayyúb (Tablet of Job), Lawh-i-Bulbulu'l-Firáq (Tablet of the Nightingale of Bereavement), Lawh-i-Fitnih (Tablet of the Test), Súriy-i-Qadír (Omnipotence), Sahífiy-i-Shattíyyih (Book of the River) and Lawh-i-Malláhu'l-Quds (Tablet of Holy Mariner). These tablets will be briefly introduced and their main points presented.


Tafsír-i-Hurúfát-i-Muqatta'ih: Commentary on the "Isolated Letters"

by Nabil Fares

Twenty-nine Súrihs of the Qur'án start with one or more letters of the Arabic alphabet right after the invocation (In the Name of God the Beneficent the Merciful). These letters are known as the "Isolated Letters." Muslims believe that these letters are distinct to the Qur'án. It is believed that these letters contain and conceal meanings and cryptic secrets, which the eloquent and most knowledgeable Arabs resigned that the knowledge and understanding of the human beings are incapable of comprehending its inner meaning and essence, except for Muhammad the Prophet. Nevertheless, some Muslim scholars claimed that these letters embody God's names, His characteristics, deeds, verdicts, and signify His decrees. Other Muslim scholars mapped these letters to the Arabic numerology (abjad notation), and came up with all sorts of ideas, hypotheses, and postulation. Any even-handed reader will see that all these attempts are mere presuppositions and full of contradictions.

Aqa Mirza Aqay-i-Rikab-Saz, who became the first Bahá'í martyr of Shíraz, requested Bahá'u'lláh to interpret for him a certain verse of the Holy Qur'án and to reveal the inner meanings of the isolated letters appeared at the beginning of certain surihs. Bahá'u'lláh revealed a momentous Arabic tablet known as Lawh-i-Ayiy-i-Núr (Tablet of the Verse of Light), also known as Tafsír-i-Hurúfát-i-Muqatta'ih (Interpretation of the Isolated Letters), in his honor.

In this lengthy tablet Bahá'u'lláh expounded some of the mysteries of knowledge, and the jewels of wisdom enshrined within the isolated letters of the Qur'án. Bahá'u'lláh draws a parallel among the previous dispensations, prescribes their unfoldment, describes the tribulations heaped on the manifestations of God; states that the believer's true spiritual progress is conditioned upon the progressive unfoldment of one's own inner state; indicates that every religion prophesies the following one; reflects on the divine love and the station of true lover of God; glorifies the station of the faithful, and the patience onto God.

Bahá'u'lláh also reveals the mysteries enshrined in some of the "Isolated Letters" such as Alif Lam Mim, Baa, Sad. In doing so He connects the mysteries in the Arabic abjad to the human soul, spirit and body; to the four elements of creation fire, wind, water and earth; to the chemistry and the natural elements of the earth; and to human beings.

This paper will cover the following:

1. The importance of the Tafsír-i-Hurúfát-i-Muqatta'ih

2. Observations on the study of the Tablet

3. The significance and historical circumstances of the revelation of the Tablet

4. Major themes of the Tablet

5. Index to the Tablet

6. A suggested course of study for the Tablet


Unsealing the Significance of Allegories in the Bible Using the Book of Certitude (Kitáb-i-Iqán)

by Brent Poirier

The Bahá'í Dispensation began with the Báb's unsealing the symbols in the Sarah of Joseph. These interpretations in the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' foreshadow Bahá'u'lláh's fuller explanations of Scriptural symbology two decades later in the Kitáb-i-Iqán. The similarity of approach between these Works will be briefly examined.

In the Book of Certitude, Bahá'u'lláh unseals terms used in all the previous Scriptures: bread, water, seeing, recognizing, dying, rising from the dead, and so on. In applying these explanations to narratives in the Bible, of people walking on a path, arriving at their destination slowly or immediately; of people in a ship on a storm-tossed sea which suddenly reaches the shore; of people not recognizing a Prophet and then miraculously seeing Him; of people being naked and then clothed; of the miraculous powers of the Prophet's robe; of Moses striking a rock in the wilderness from which water flowed; of Joseph's brothers coming to Him at a time of famine; of all of the Prophets distributing food to the people; as well as manifestly symbolic imagery such as all the mountains on earth being crushed to dust and the earth becoming a plain — all of these contain the terms Bahá'u'lláh unsealed in the Iqán, some of which were initially unsealed in briefer fashion by the Báb. By applying the explanations in the Iqán, and supplementary explanations from 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the heart of each of these stories becomes more immediate and inspiring. Events in the past presented as historical narratives, as well as future events presented in apocalyptic imagery, contain the same symbols interpreted in the Book of Certitude. This approach also shows parallels between the symbolic histories in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures.

In addition, Bible prophecies foreshadowing Bahá'u'lláh by name, or predicting His banishments, also contain terms elucidated in the Iqán, and understanding them in the light of Bahá'u'lláh's explanations makes these prophecies even more striking. The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, too, is foreshadowed in highly symbolic terminology in the Revelation of St. John, symbology unsealed by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Iqán. Many times Biblical stories, generally thought to be historical narratives, use symbols to convey truths which are fundamental Bahá'í verities, verities likewise found concealed in Bible Imagery.