Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #34 (English)

Bosch Bahá'í School: California USA

May 18–20, 2001.

Alwáh-i-Ra'ís (Tablets Addressed to the Ottoman Prime Minister)

by Iskandar Hai

A brief historical background of the revelation of these Tablets, Súrih-i-Ra'ís and Lawh-i-Ra'ís, and their addressees will be followed by the topical analysis of their contents. Ra'ís, which means the head, president or ruler, refers to the Prime Minister of the Ottoman Empire (the head of the government administration) who after the Sultan (`Abdu'l-'Aziz) was the highest ranking position in the Ottoman Empire.

Súrih-i-Ra'ís is in Arabic and was revealed on the way from Edirne to 'Akká, it was revealed in honor of Haji Muhammad Ismá'íl-i-Kashání, surnamed Zabih or Anis, but it is addressed to 'Alí Páshá, the Prime Minister, This Tablet contains references to the hardship and persecution suffered by Bahá'u'lláh, the conspiracy of 'Alí Páshá with the Iranian government authorities, and the purpose and greatness of and prophecies about the future of the Faith, particularly the advent of the kings and rulers who will promote the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh,

The other Tablet, revealed in Persian in 'Akká, also was addressed to 'Alí Pashá. This Tablet presents the fury and rage and consequently the vengeance of the Divine Source against those who rise against His Cause and, in particular, 'Alí Páshá. It has a reproachful tone. It also contains other points about the transient and mortal nature of this life, calling on the people of the world to hearken to the call of Bahá'u'lláh, and shows Bahá'u'lláh's willingness and pride in accepting the sufferings.

Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet to Manikji Sahib: Introduction and provisional translation

by Ramin Neshati

Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch

Bahá'u'lláh
The Lawh-i-Manikji Sahib is a prominent tablet revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in the early 'Akká period. It enjoys a singular distinction in the corpus of Bahá'u'lláh's writings, as it is the first occasion where He gives expression to the now-famous anthem: "Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch." It is also noteworthy for its style and composition--one of only a few tablets Bahá'u'lláh revealed in pure Persian. This paper concerns itself with an epigrammatic survey of the salient themes found in the tablet and with their import and correlation to Bahá'u'lláh's writings of the same and later periods. The recipient, Manikji Sahib, was a Parsi agent dispatched to Persia by the Zoroastrian community of Bombay to aid and assist their coreligionists. He met Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad in 1854 while en route to Iran and later corresponded with Him on more than one occasion. Manikji was impressed by Bahá'u'lláh's dignity and comportment and in due time became well disposed to the nascent Bahá'í community through an enduring rapport with Him. This tablet was revealed in response to one of Manikii's letters in which he posed specific questions to Bahá'u'lláh on Divine Names, language preference (i.e., Persian over Arabic), education and the like. Despite the growing tensions between Zoroastrian dasturs (high priests) and prominent Zoroastrian converts to the Bahá'í Faith around the time this tablet was revealed, Manikji retained a favorable outlook toward the Bahá'ís and continued to maintain a warm friendship with Bahá'u'lláh,

The following is an abridged outline of the important themes found in this tablet:
  1. Response to question about Divine Names

  2. Response to question about preferred language

  3. Abandonment of alienation and enmity

  4. Advice against avarice

  5. Admonition to combine speech with action

  6. Glad tidings of the unity of mankind

  7. Admonitions to adopt a virtuous life
Many of Bahá'u'lláh's social and ethical teachings can be traced to this tablet. While the foremost theme of the tablet accentuates the call for the unity of mankind, Bahá'u'lláh also stresses the need to act in accordance with the exigencies of time and to be alert to the problems of the day. He, moreover, advises all nations and races to dispel alienation, enmity and estrangement. Other social and ethical teachings present in this tablet are: the necessity to use language with wisdom, to adopt virtuous traits, to eschew greed and so on. In numerous later writings, Bahá'u'lláh continues to expand and elaborate on many of the same topics. Ostensibly a reply to a letter of a friend, this tablet enjoys a marked distinction in Bahá'u'lláh's voluminous revelation for its weighty content and its lofty and lucid diction. Manikji deserves our abiding gratitude for eliciting this majestic tablet from the Supreme Pen and for his unrelenting services towards furthering the principles of education and human rights in Qajar Iran--principles that he, it should not escape our attention, avidly shared with Bahá'u'lláh.
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Content and Context in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas

by Habib Riazati

The divine laws and ordinances could be studied from various angles and by using different approaches. Such studies may cover interrelationships (of the laws), comparison (with specific religion, a number of religions, civic laws, or cultural practices), historical and/or chronological background, developmental processes in their revelation and in their application, content analysis, categorization, justification, socio-cultural settings, impacts on various aspects of individual and societal life, institution building powers, creative and/or prophetic nature, and so on.

In this presentation the relationship of content and context as they apply to the laws and ordinances will be discussed. Subjects such as the universality of the Message of the Manifestations of God and their organic nature and gradual development, both within a religion and throughout history, will be considered. Finally, the cohesive aspect of the revelation coupled with various needs of mankind as a function of Time and Space will be presented. The main objective will be to clarify the mutual impacts of content and context in comprehension, appreciation and implementation of the laws and ordinances under specific prevailing conditions.

Exposition on the Fire Tablet by Bahá'u'lláh (Lawh-i-Qad Ihtaráqa'l-Mukhlisun): An Exegesis

by James B. Thomas

This tablet reveals a mystical intercourse between the twin stations of Bahá'u'lláh, human and divine, that expresses a powerful message of victory and great promise. To understand the Fire Tablet it is essential to know of events and conditions pertaining to the Bahá'í Faith that preceded the time of the writing of the tablet. In Adrianople, Mírzá Yahyá and Siyyid Muhammad provoked catastrophic events within the Bahá'í community that resulted in exile to 'Akká. Their actions would escalate in that prison and would cause great harm to the Faith,

In the past Bahá'u'lláh had always regenerated the Bábís by His pen, beginning with His release from the Síyáh-Chál. In 'Akká He was burdened with conditions greater than any experienced in Baghdad, Constantinople or Adrianople. Sedition, tyranny, despair, separation, divisiveness and degradation were compounded by the death of His youngest son. In this milieu of torment Bahá'u'lláh revealed the Lawh-i-Ihtiráq, or the Fire Tablet. It is reviewed in three parts. First, Bahá'u'lláh describes conditions of abject sorrow followed by invocations to God and then refers to God by His attributes. This exposition clarifies these conditions by references to other writings. Second, God answers the call of Bahá'u'lláh in powerful terms explaining why such conditions exist and addresses Bahá'u'lláh with endearing terms. Third, God is answered by Bahá'u'lláh in provocative terms, bursting through the ashes of despair with the triumph of sacrifice. The tablet was revealed in 1871 for a young devotee named Haji Siyyid 'Alí-Akbar.
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"For The Love of My Beauty": Love, Art and Attainment in the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh

by Brian Miller

This presentation examines the importance of beauty in the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh as a name and attribute of God. It explores the relationship of beauty, artful expression, and love to the spiritual progress of the soul and human society. Beauty is a key element in how we live our lives as Bahá'í­s and an aspect of how we participate in the divine process of transforming the human world so that it reflects more of God's perfections. Hence we "Observe My commandments for the love of My Beauty."

Beauty as divine principle and literary object recurs frequently in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh. This study will examine the literary and theological intersection termed jamal in examples of His poetry and prose. We will argue that literary artistry is a basic feature of sacred texts. Bahá'u'lláh foregrounds this theme in his writings to promulgate the notion that beauty is an attribute of God endowed with a dynamic purpose that exerts a determining influence on the development of a civil society. In this way we will examine various passages from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh that refer to beauty and consider their context. We will give particular attention to the mention of the Maiden of Heaven and her power to transform the created world, Beauty and attraction are important elements in the mystic love that enables us to draw closer to God through His Manifestation. Beauty touches the heart and expands the vision of the lover so that s/he may make a living sacrifice to God.

Knowledge, Certitude, and the Mystical Heart: The Hidden Essence of God's Word

by LeRoy Jones

In the first lines of the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Bahá'u'lláh writes of attaining "true understanding." He notes that those who thirst for certitude must "cleanse themselves of all that is earthly," and "Then will they be made worthy of the effulgent glories of the sun of divine knowledge and understanding." Repeatedly in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, as well as many other Bahá'í scriptures, the Blessed Beauty incites us to seek divine knowledge or true understanding.

Bahá'u'lláh continues with this theme by instructing us "to cleanse the eye of thine heart from the things of the world, that thou mayest realize the infinitude of divine knowledge, and mayest behold Truth so clearly that thou wilt need no proof to demonstrate His reality, nor any evidence to bear witness unto His testimony" (Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 91). He equates Truth with divine knowledge and once again requires that we must first be cleansed of worldly things. In addition, He clarifies that it is the "heart" that must be purified. Later in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, when once again charging us with cleansing the heart, Bahá'u'lláh says that the heart is "the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God," and that after it is in the proper state we will be awakened by the "mystic Herald" and His "trumpet-blast of knowledge" (Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 196). This panoply of terms raises many questions. What is divine knowledge or true understanding? Why is the Kitáb-i-Íqán the Book of Certitude and not the Book of Certainty? What is the distinction between divine knowledge and other kinds of knowledge? What is meant by the heart as the "seat of the revelation of inner mysteries?" What condition of the heart leads to this trumpet blast of knowledge? If we need no proof or evidence how is it that we can see "Truth" so clearly? What is "His testimony?" These verses suggest the elusive and transcendent nature of divine knowledge.

The following scripture further indicates the difficulty of formulating a concrete, literal definition of these terms.
The first and foremost testimony establishing His truth is His own Self. Next to this testimony is His Revelation. For whoso faileth to recognize either the one or the other He hath established the words He hath revealed as proof of His reality and truth. This is, verily, an evidence of His tender mercy unto men. He hath endowed every soul with the capacity to recognize the signs of God. How could He, otherwise, have fulfilled His testimony unto men, if ye be of them that ponder His Cause in their hearts. (Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 105-106).
Assuming a connection between the testimony mentioned here and the divine knowledge that leads one to "His testimony" indicated in the verse above, we see a possible hierarchy of knowledge. Apparently the highest level is understanding the testimony of "His own Self." After that is apprehending the Revelation. If we cannot access these two then we can seek the revealed word.

The verse that proclaims the mystic Herald as the source of knowledge suggests the mystical nature of divine knowledge. The first two types of testimony above, that of His own Self and His Revelation, would appear also to be of a mystical nature. This presentation will examine many scriptures related to these themes in search of a deeper understanding of the Bahá'í perspective of knowledge and certitude, awareness of God and His Revelation in relation to the revealed word, as well as the mystical nature of the spiritual heart and its relationship to these subjects.
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Mystical Themes in Bahá'í Obligatory Prayer

by Ghasem Bayat

Prayer is an act of reverent petition to God. It is an act of devotion, confession, praise and thanksgiving. It is about communion with the Object of our adoration. Prayer means adoration, praise of man for God and special attention to Him, and grace of God for man. In the Hebrew language, it refers to a temple, and in Arabic it means a stronghold. Although there are many prayers in the Bahá'í Faith, obligatory prayers are given special significance and form an essential part of the daily observances of a believer.

Bahá'u'lláh recalled the revelation of the verses of the obligatory prayers as "The Most Great Glad Tidings." He gave us the choice of three obligatory prayers to recite daily. Observance of this daily worship, like other Bahá'í laws, is for the love of the Blessed Beauty. Recital of the daily obligatory prayer brings comfort, peace, and certitude to one's heart. It allows the bird of the human soul to soar free from the limitations of the material world and its entanglement, and move towards the Abha Kingdom. No wonder obligatory prayer is referred to in the writings as "a fortress," "a cord of God's love," "a mighty pillar of God's holy Law," "ladder for the ascent of the believer" and "the foundation of the Cause of God."

During the recital of an obligatory prayer, a believer communes with his Lord and his Beloved, asking to become worthy of rendering a service at His threshold and begging for assistance and confirmation in following His Laws and Commandments. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that obligatory prayers and supplications cause man to reach the Kingdom of Mystery and the worship of the Supreme One. He further states, "When saying an obligatory prayer, one must turn towards the Holy Reality of Bahá'u'lláh, that Reality which encompasseth all things." A believer, in order to reach Bahá'u'lláh's Presence and drink the water of life from His Hands, must burn away all veils that separate him from his Lord. This spiritual ascent is attained through His love.

For over 1,400 years, the believers, the mystics, the Sufis and the poets prayed and wrote their supplications and longings in Arabic and Persian, in the forms of poetry and prose. This developed the language used into a worthy instrument for Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation. Bahá'u'lláh used the Arabic language as the medium for the revelation of the verses of all three obligatory prayers as this language is rich with mystical themes and stories, proverbs and metaphors, and has a wide range of vocabulary. As a result, each verse is heavily laden with meanings, resembling a multilevel mine full of inestimable gems. In the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Know thou that in every word and movement of the obligatory prayer there are allusions, mysteries and a wisdom that man is unable to comprehend, and letters and scrolls cannot contain."

In a brief review, some of the main mystical themes of these prayers will be highlighted and their special significance in the light of the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh will be addressed.

Súriy-i-Haykal (Súrih of the Temple): A Review

by Ghasem Bayat

Súriy-i-Haykal (Súrih of the Temple) has been designated by the Beloved Guardian as one of the most challenging works of Bahá'u'lláh. This Tablet was first revealed in Adrianople, then with a few minor changes was re-revealed in 'Akká around 1869. The Blessed Beauty ordered this Tablet to be combined with five of the most important of His Tablets to sovereigns of His age and to be written in the form of a pentacle, symbolizing a human temple.

Thus Bahá'u'lláh associated Súriy-i-Haykal with the prophecy of Zechariah in the Torah. The existence, destruction, and, ultimately, the rebuilding of the Israelite temple are central to the Jewish experience. Bahá'u'lláh identifies Himself as the promised Temple through which both Israel and all the nations of mankind will find redemption.

This Tablet contains numerous references to the manifold stations of a Manifestation of God and offers guidance for a deeper appreciation of the Unity that exists in the Realms of the Cause. The Tablet consists of a series of addresses by the Most Great Spirit to the physical Temple of His Manifestation on earth, and His promise to create a race of men to proclaim and support His Cause. It is in this context that religious leaders, sovereigns, and people are being addressed and warned of their transgressions.

Some of the mightiest statements of Bahá'u'lláh about the power that has been infused into His Revelation appear in this Tablet. Many topics such as the spiritual birth of man, the creative power of the Word of God, and the example of the life of His Manifestation are covered in this Tablet. A brief butmoving account Of Mírzá Yahya's early life and education under the direction of the Blessed Beauty and finally his transgression against Bahá'u'lláh is also given i n this Tablet. This Tablet, with its numerous addresses to the Bábí communities, along with other books such as the Kitáb-i-Badi', was instrumental in the mass conversion of the Bábí communities to the Cause of Bahá.

Sections of this mighty Tablet well translated by Shoghi Effendi in The Promised Day is Come and in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. In addition, Anton F. Haddad made a literal translation from the original Arabic into English.

Tablets of Salman II and Pisar-'Amm (The Issue of Sufferings of the Manifestations of God)

by Mahyad Zaerpoor-Rahnemaee

Lawh-i-Salman

This short Tablet was revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in honor of Salman in the first few months after His sojourn to 'Akká (1867). The Tablet opens with a description of unspeakable hardships engulfing Bahá'u'lláh and His companions. In response to Salman's longing to see his Lord, Bahá'u'lláh showers him with his loving counsels, reassuring him that he could always feel his Lord's presence when turning to Him with "pure heart, immaculate spirit, honest tongue and sanctified gaze," He emphasizes the transitory nature of this corporeal life and mentions that people's ignorance is the main cause of their attachment to the fleeting events of this world. The Tablet ends with an Arabic prayer asking for steadfastness and consecration in the path of God and blessings in this world and the world to come.

Lawh-i-Pisar-'Amm (Tablet to the Cousin)

This Tablet was revealed in honor of Mírzá Hasan-i-Mázandaráni (a paternal cousin of Bahá'u'lláh, then in His Company in the Barrack of 'Akká) in mid-1870, shortly after the passing of Mírzá Mihdi (the Purest Branch). In many respects there are a lot common themes, woven within these two Tablets. In both Tablets, Bahá'u'lláh emphasizes the necessity of detachment from this world and its transitory vanities, steadfastness under trying conditions, and spreading the words of God by adhering to saintly conducts and purity of deeds. He reassures his servants that sacrificing one's life and worldly possessions is considered to be a blessing with inestimable rewards awaiting the person. Exhortations to observe justice, fair-mindedness, chastity, sanctity, and detachments are common in both Tablets. Moreover, both Tablets were revealed in a period when Bahá'u'lláh and his companions were suffering from unspeakable hardships and numerous calamities. Bahá'u'lláh, alluding to the gravity of His sufferings, invites His servants to be patient, show acquiescence, and detach themselves from the world and its vanities, and be in the spirit of constant bliss and ecstasy.

The underlying theme of the lamentations of the Blessed Beauty in these two Tablets inspired the idea of exploring some possible responses to the following two questions:
  1. What is the wisdom behind the eventful and calamitous lives of the Manifestations of God?

  2. What are some of the ramifications of such sufferings in the spiritual progress of the believers?

Tablets with Mystical and Philosophical Themes: Hikmat (Wisdom), Ru'ya (Dream), and Burhan (Reason)

by Muin Afnani

Tablet of Hikmat (Wisdom):

This Tablet is arguably the most important philosophical Tablet of Bahá'u'lláh. In the early centuries of Islam, in particular during the Abbasid dynasty, many works of famous Greek philosophers were translated into Arabic and Islamic scholars Studied these texts. Gradually, Islamic philosophers developed their own version of philosophy along with specific terminologies and concepts. In this Tablet Bahá'u'lláh explains the concept of creation using terminology of Islamic philosophers. In addition to philosophical issues, this Tablet contains many other important concepts such as the station of a human being, moral values, spiritual teachings, the concept of moderation, and so on. The recipient of this Tablet was the peerless scholar and teacher of the Faith, acute;qá Muhammad-i-Qáiní, known as Nabíl-i-Akbar, upon whom 'Abdu'l-Bahá conferred the station Hand of the Cause after his passing. This Tablet is entirely in Arabic.

Tablets of Rú'yá (Vision):

This Tablet was revealed in the early period of 'Akká, in 1873, on the occasion of the anniversary of the birth of the Báb. In this Tablet, similar to His other mystical writings such as the Tablet of the Maiden of Heaven, Ode of Varqá'íyyih, and Bahá'u'lláh's Mathnaví (poetry), Bahá'u'lláh describes His encounter with the Maid of Heaven (Húrí). This Tablet is replete with mystical terminology, allegories, and poetic words and phrases which Bahá'u'lláh has used to draw a beautiful mystical vision before our eyes. Húrí laments at the tribulations of the Blessed Beauty and invites Him to leave this physical world and ascend to the realm above. Similar to some of His other mystical Tablets, here Bahá'u'lláh used the concept of hair in a fascinating and mystical way. This Tablet is entirely in Arabic.

Tablet of Burhán (Proof):

This Tablet was revealed shortly after the martyrdoms of the King and the Beloved of the Martyrs. It is addressed to Shaykh Muhammad-Báqir, stigmatized by Bahá'u'lláh as the Wolf; he was the cleric who issued the death sentence of these two illustrious servants of Bahá'u'lláh. In very strong language Bahá'u'lláh addresses the Wolf and his associate, Mír Muhammad-Husayn, another cleric who led the Friday prayer in the mosque and was addressed by Bahá'u'lláh as the She-Serpent, warning them of the consequences of their actions. Yet, the Blessed Beauty counsels them and invites them to take lessons from the fates of Sultán 'Abdu'l-'Aziz of the Ottoman Empire and Napoleon III, who refused the summons of God. This Tablet is entirely in Arabic.