Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #40 (English)

Bosch Bahá'í­ School: California USA

May 23–26, 2002.

Theme: "Akká Period"


Bahá'u'lláh's Lawh-i-Maqsud: Counsels on Education, Leadership, Justice and Peace

by Ramin Neshati

The Lawh-i-Maqsud, addressed by Bahá'u'lláh to a certain Mirza Maqsúd (a Persian believer residing in Syria), is a momentous tablet revealed in the late Akká period, circa 1880-1881 at Bahji. Dictated to His scribe-in-attendance (Mírzá Aqá Ján), it is an amalgamation of advice and admonition from earlier tablets and some uniquely instructive pronouncements not found elsewhere in Bahá'u'lláh's writings. The realization of human aptitude' and potential, however, is made contingent upon education. Other topics of note include His poignant reflection on the state of human affairs, its forlorn leadership and its collective failure to settle conflicts peacefully and with due attention to justice. The decade leading to the revelation of this tablet was witness to violent clashes around the world, some of the more germane of which were the failed British foray into Afghanistan, various European and African conflicts, the rampant march of colonialism and the ensuing assertion of nationalism by those bearing the brunt of imperial exploitations. Bahá'u'lláh ,expresses disappointment over the din and noise of wars and revolutions that have drowned out His healing message. He calls for the establishment of a global conclave of world leaders to put out rogue and unjust aggression, to trim down offensive armaments and to promote universal peace (the 'Great Peace') through dialogue and consultation.. He reiterates the appeals for the selection of a common language and script, for the promotion of unity and peace among the nations and for the institution of just governance; Revealed mostly in Persian with some segments in Arabic, the English translation of this tablet appears in Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas.

The following is an abridged outline of the significant themes found in this tablet:
  • Prophets are intermediaries between God and creation. Mankind at all times stands in need of guidance from his Creator, but the latter is invulnerable and self-sufficient. While mankind is recognized as the 'supreme Talisman,' it will take proper education to uncover his true worth and to polish and refine his character.
  • Bahá'u'lláh showers prolific praise on Muhammad, the Messenger of God, employing a literary device common in most correspondences of this manner. He, moreover, acknowledges receipt of Mírzá Maqsúd's correspondence.
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Commentary on Bahá'u'lláh's Epistemological Approach to Cosmological Questions in the Lawh-i-Hikmat

by Dann May

Metaphysical questions concerning cosmology (i.e., the nature and structure of the universe) and cosmogony (i.e., the origin of the universe ) are of perennial interest and are discussed throughout the Bahá'í Writings. Bahá'u'lláh occasionally refers to such questions in his writings, including his later writings, of which the Lawh-i-Hikmat "Tablet of Wisdom" is typical. Bahá'u'lláh's responses to such metaphysical questions, both in the Lawh-i-Hikmat and elsewhere, are revealing, for they are characterized more by epistemological rather than metaphysical content. Bahá'u'lláh answers such questions in the Lawh-i-Hikmat by first observing that "conceptions vary by reason of the divergences in men's thoughts and opinions." From this observation, Bahá'u'lláh asserts that the varying conceptions, whether theological, philosophical, or empirical are all, relatively speaking, "correct." This approach to varying metaphysical conceptions may be understood as a type of perspectivism (or standpoint epistemology,) where one's limited understanding depends, at least in part, on where one "stands" conceptually or on how one views a particularly complex phenomenon. I shall explore this perspectivism both philosophically and theologically through the use of two different but complimentary approaches: first by appealing to contemporary philosophical discussions, and second, by analyzing similar explanations found in early Buddhism and the philosophical Taoism of Chuang-tzu (ca. 369-286 B. C. E.).


Comparable Laws: Two Different Dispensations: The Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Bayán

by Nabil Fares

Is there a relationship between the laws revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and those revealed in the Bayan? What are the laws that were revealed in the Bayan, and abrogated by Bahá'u'lláh? Which ones does His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh corroborate?

During the course of these two 'Irfán sessions we will present a comparative study of the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and those of the Bayan. The discussions will offer illuminating insights into the nature of the intricate and mysterious interrelation between the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths.

We will discuss the relationship of the legislation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas to that of the Persian and Arabic Bayan. Bahá'u'lláh revealed His laws for this immaculate era. A careful study to these laws will reveal that some of these laws have their roots in the Bábí dispensation. We can notice some similarities to the laws of revealed by His Holiness the Báb. Furthermore; almost all of the laws of the Bayan were codified in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. The only exceptions were laws that the Báb Himself declared as temporary, and put in place to prepare the way for the coming of 'Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest', that is, Bahá'u'lláh. The laws of the Bayan that were temporary in nature, such as the prohibition on studying dead languages or grammar, were abrogated not by Bahá'u'lláh, but by His declaration that He was Whom God Shall Make Manifest, at which time such laws became redundant. The only other laws were not carried over from the Bábí to the Bahá'í dispensation were those that gave Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest special respect, such as the law that everyone should rise when the name of Him Whom God shall Make Manifest was mentioned. Such laws were abrogated by Bahá'u'lláh, as sign of grace and mercy, and not because the laws of the Bayan were strange, unworkable or excessive.


Epistle to the Son of the Wolf

by Muin Afnan

According to the beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, this magnificent Tablet was revealed one year before Bahá'u'lláh's ascension. Among the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh this Tablet occupies a significant position; for , that reason Shoghi Effendi decided to translate this Tablet into English in its entirety. One of the reasons for its importance lies in the fact that Bahá'u'lláh has re-revealed some of the texts from His previous Writings such as The ' Hidden Words, Tablets to the King and Rulers (King of Iran, Napoleon III, Czar of Russia, Queen Victoria), the Book of Iqán (Certitude), Tablet of the Proof, and many others. The extent and scope of the themes in this Tablet are such that practically most concepts of Bahá'í Writings are mentioned in this book, e.g., moral and spiritual teachings, social principles, theology, apologetics, prophecies from the Bible and Islamic Texts, mystical expressions, issues related to civilization and world governance, the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, etc. In other words, the reader finds a summary of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings in the marvelous Tablet.

Epistle to the Son of the Wolf was addressed to a cleric of Isfahán known as Najafí, whom Bahá'u'lláh called Son of the Wolf. He was responsible for the martyrdom of many Bahá'ís in that city, and later was instrumental in the massacre of Bahá'ís of Yazd in 1903. His father, Muhammad Báqir, who was also a cleric in Isfahán, was responsible for the martyrdom of two devoted believers known as the King of Martyrs and the Beloved of Martyrs. He was stigmatized by Bahá'u'lláh as The Wolf. Both of these two clerics fell to great misery even in their physical life. For details see God Passes By, Notes in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, and The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, Vol. IV, by Adib Taherzadeh.


Exposition of the Tablet of the World (Lawh-i-Dunyá), An

by James B. Thomas

In an effort to fully appreciate the historical significance of the Tablet of the World, this essay first portrays the developing conditions in Persia and in the world that preceded the Lawh-i-Dunyá. It then expounds the salient points of the Tablet.

In Iran, the leading Divines objected to anything western in spite of obvious technological achievements that might bring about improved living conditions. This harks back to the days when 'Abdu'l-Bahá was encouraged to write 'The Secret Of Divine Civilization' twenty-six years before when the Shah was trying to make an attempt to modernize the country. When occasional compromises were discussed they were presented in such fragmented ways that progress was stillborn.

The world, on the other hand, was ruled by European powers at a time when spectacular technological advances were on a collision course with political corruption. A historical review leading up to the state of European affairs in the late eighteen hundreds is presented as a backdrop to the potency of Bahá'u'lláh's pen. The second industrial revolution was in full swing in 1891 when Bahá'u'lláh wrote "this mighty and wondrous Tablet" and it was in stark contrast to the backward looking conditions in Persia, a land that had such a, glorious past.

In the Tablet Bahá'u'lláh first addresses the degradation of Persia with solutions by which its spiritual plight can be overcome. He then broadens His solutions to encompass all of mankind with five steps, the first being promotion of the Lesser Peace. He emphasizes the need of a common language, adherence to unity, children's education and, in Persia, the need for modern agriculture. All this is in contrast to the unbeliever's focus on the shedding of blood, the burning of books, the shunning of followers of other religions and extermination of other communities. He declares that the affairs of men should be committed to the care of just kings and presidents and of the Trustees of the Universal House of Justice. He also admonishes the people of God to incline their hearts unto the counsels of the Incomparable Friend. He then appeals to God to graciously aid His servants. Finally, He assures that the Glory proceeding from God rests upon the people of Baha.

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Lawh-i-Ard-i-Bá and its relation to the Station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá

by Sohi Rastegar

Lawh-i-Ard-i-Bá was revealed in Akká in 1879 in honor of 'Abdu'l-Bahá at the wake of the 'opening of the doors of the Prison city'. 'Abdu'l-Bahá had traveled to Beirut — referred to as Ard-i-Bá (Land of Bá), 'Bá' being the letter 'B' in the Arabic alphabet. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's travel to Beirut helped spread abroad the prestige of the Faith as well as the fame of its 'most distinguished member'.

The tablet begins with Praise of God for blessing Beirut with the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Within that He proclaims some of the titles of 'Abdu'l-Bahá such as "Him round whom all names revolve" and "His ancient and immutable Mystery". The tablet takes a personal turn when the Blessed Beauty reflects the sorrow that the Prison city feels while another land 'rejoiceth'. It is interesting to note that this is the first time since Bahá'u'lláh's sojourn to Sulaymáníyyih that the father and son had been separated.

Bahá'u'lláh then refers to the opening of the gates of the Prison City, Akká, as fulfillment of God's promise. This is probably a reference to a promise Bahá'u'lláh made in 1870 to the Purest Branch, Mírzá Mihdí, a younger brother of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, at the time of Mírzá Mihdí's martyrdom.

In the next segment of the tablet, Bahá'u'lláh with exquisite expressions blesses material/physical objects that become associated with sensing or manifesting the greatness of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. He blesses the eye, the ear, and the heart that have been affected by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, as well as the pen and the scroll that exclaim His praise. At the end of the tablet Bahá'u'lláh once again demonstrates his personal feelings by asking God for the 'honor of meeting him soon.'


Lawh-i-Ittihád (Tablet of Unity)

by Mahyad Zaerpoor-Rahnamaie

This Tablet was revealed in the later years of Akká period by Bahá'u'lláh in honor of Siyyid Asadu'lláh, from the city of Rasht. In this Tablet five levels or aspects of unity are described: unity of religion, unity of speech, unity of deeds, unity of the station of the believers, and unity of earthly possessions.

In addition to expounding on the meaning of each level of unity, Bahá'u'lláh gives simple examples for further clarification of its concept. After reviewing some historical events leading to disunity in the Islamic dispensation, He invites His followers to aid the Cause by holding fast to unity and consensus. He emphasizes that "love of God" is the single cause and, at the same time, the ultimate purpose of a world-embracing unity.

The Tablet ends with words of advice on how to teach the Faith of God (in tender, considerate, and gradual manner), how the believers are expected to be tactful, and how to deepen themselves in the inner meanings of the writings. There are two main objectives in studying this Tablet. On one hand, by reviewing its content, some of the main themes are to be examined in more details. On the other hand, an attempt will be made to explore practical ways to bring about more unity in the relationships amongst individuals, institutions, and the community at large.


Ocean of Acceptance, The

by LeRoy Jones

At the heart of the covenant are the acts of recognition and obedience. Bahá'u'lláh states "The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws ... Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth everyone who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other." (The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, P. 19)

This verse is challenging to many Bahá'ís attempting to teach others that all religions are equal. Many Bahá'ís prefer to give equal status to not only the Manifestations, but to the followers of other religions as well. Bahá'u'lláh cautions us to never exalt ourselves above anyone. (The Kitáb-i-Iqán P. 193) How can I as a Bahá'í try to avoid personal exaltation, but at the same time embrace a teaching that implies that those who accept Bahá'u'lláh are the only ones with the potential to perform acceptable deeds? In the Kitáb-i-Iqán, while discussing the issue of acceptance, Bahá'u'lláh maintains, "These Lights have proceeded from but one Source, and these fruits are the fruits of one Tree. Thou canst discern neither difference nor distinction among them. All this is by the grace of God! On whom He will, He bestoweth His grace. Please God, that we avoid the land of denial, and advance into the ocean of acceptance, so that we may perceive, with an eye purged from all conflicting elements, the worlds of unity and diversity, of variation and oneness, of limitation and detachment, and wing. our flight unto the highest and innermost sanctuary of the inner meaning of the Word of God." (P. 160) In this verse Bahá'u'lláh elevates recognition, the ocean of acceptance, to a spiritual station that encourages one to purge their heart of all "conflicting elements" so they may find sanctuary in the "inner meanings of the Word of God." The hope of this discussion is to show that understanding a pivotal spiritual issue like recognition is impossible within a purely intellectual framework and that in the very act of recognition is the impetus to overcome division. True recognition is a spiritual process that allows an inner context with the potential to break down barriers and separation.


Súrah al-Sultán, The King

by Muin Afnan

This relatively long Tablet which is entirely in Arabic appears to have been revealed in Akká because in one passage Bahá'u'lláh refers to His calamities and exile in a land where no one was allowed to enter, which is reference to pilgrims not being allowed to enter Akká to see Bahá'u'lláh. This is one of the most beautiful Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh in Arabic from linguistic point of view. Many of the passages are in the form of rhymed prose full of metaphors and mystic expressions. It contains a wide variety of subjects from apologetics, historical points, moral teachings, and mystical concepts. The name of the Tablet, Sultan, appears to have been derived from a sentence where reference is made to the city of Sultán-Abád, which today is known as Arák.

Bahá'u'lláh mentions names of several individuals and to each one gives special counsels. Some of the main themes in this Tablet include:
  • Importance of accepting the Word of God and being steadfast in His Cause.

  • Several summons and counsels to Yahyá Azal. Bahá'u'lláh tells him that while he was spending a time of comfort alongside his wives, Bahá'u'lláh was in chain defending the cause of Truth. Then He tells him that His whole being has been the target of shafts of deceit and machination launched by Azal and his associates. Even then, He harbors no anger or ill feeling toward Yahyá; however, unless he changes his behavior and turns to God soon he and his associate will witness their spiritual decay.

  • Today the only thing which will benefit humankind is recognition of the Manifestation of God and love of this Youth (Bahá'u'lláh).

  • God, through His inscrutable wisdom, has hidden from people the end result of many affairs until it is beneficial to reveal them.

  • Ones actions should speak louder than his words. Attire yourselves with the ornaments of justice, forbearance, truthfulness, helping the needy, and keeping your promise.

  • The cornerstone of faith is being steadfast in calamities for the sake of the love of God.

  • God has built His House in the hearts of His servants. Be vigilant and safeguard this House which is the true place for pilgrimage.
At the end of this Tablet Bahá'u'lláh bids the handmaidens of God to be patient in the calamities they have suffered for the sake of the Cause, and assures them of His blessings.


Súrih-yi-Vafá (Tablet to Vafá)

by Azadeh Mohandessi-Fares

Among the tablets revealed in Akká after the revelation of Kitáb-i-Aqdas is the tablet to Vafá known as Muhammad Husayn of Shiráz. The Tablet holds essential keys to a few important themes in the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh.

These weighty subjects can be listed as:
  • The meaning of true fidelity (Vafa)

  • The meaning of Return and Resurrection

  • The Worlds of God

  • The meaning of Paradise and Hell

  • The meaning of Bahá'u'lláh's warning at the time of His departure from Iraq and its connection to a verse of Qur'án

  • The people of Bayán and their waywardness
Since the revelations of the Manifestations of God have a divine thread that connects them to one another, the focus of this presentation is to explore, in particular the meaning of Return and Resurrection, as well as the meaning of paradise and hell in the revelations of Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, and of Muhammad.

In addition a view to the same themes of Return and Resurrection in such momentous writings of the Blessed Beauty as the Kitáb-i-Iqán, Book of Certitude, will be presented. The revelation of Kitáb-i-Iqán and that of Súrih-yi-Vafa is separated by the span of twenty-five years. A journey between these two sacred writings for those in search of a glimmer of understanding in regards to these themes seems most worthy.


Social Justice According to the Divine Standard

by James Nelson

The purpose of every religion has been to promote unity among all the peoples of the world. All the major religions have taught the "Golden Rule" as a standard for social justice at the interpersonal level. Justice at this level appears as inherent in the relationship. As social relations have grown more and more complex the notions of fairness and equity inherent in the golden rule have found no application to the nations of a politicized world. The justice now sought between groups and nations is no longer inherent in the situation. There is now a vital need for a universal prescription for social justice that has heretofore been lacking in religious expression. This [course] will examine the advent and application of that prescription using as source materials:

    Bibliography

    Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh

    Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh

    Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Bahá'í World: 1950-1957

Surah Al-Shams, The Sun

by Muin Afnan

This Tablet was revealed in response to queries of Shaykh Mahmúd, the religious judge of Akká. He had requested for an explanation of a Surah (chapter) of the Qur'án called the Sun. This Tablet is revealed entirely in Arabic. Shaykh Mahmúd became a believer in Bahá'u'lláh and collected, in the form of a book, many prophecies from Islamic traditions on the blessings of Akká, the Holy Land, and the visitors of Akká.

In this Tablet, Bahá'u'lláh first admonishes him to leave aside question and answer, purify himself of worldly attachment, and ascend to the heaven of nearness of the Beloved. Then, He comments on the worldly knowledge that has made some people arrogant and has been the cause of Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment. Then He proceeds to give some of the meanings enshrined in this Surah. As for the word Sun, He says there are numerous meanings, of which He offers four:

1) First and foremost, Sun refers to the Primal Will of God. No one except God knows the secret of this sublime station;

2) In the second place, Sun refers to the station of Manifestations of God Who are the spiritual Suns of Divine Names and Attributes in the world of creation. For instance, those who followed Christ were illumined from the rays of that luminous Sun until it dawned again from Hijaz (Arabia);

3) Next, Sun refers to the Holy Ones who succeed the Manifestations of God, and also refers to friends of God;

4) Finally, the word Sun encompasses all the Divine Names such as All Knowing. Bahá'u'lláh gives explanation for other word sand phrases of his Súrah such as Moon, Noon, Heaven, Earth, etc. At the end of the Tablet Bahá'u'lláh offers a prayer for Shaykh Mahmúd so that he may be able to drink of the cup of detachment destined for the holy ones of God.


Tablet of Bismilih

by Muin Afnan

This Tablet is revealed in Akká partly in Persian and partly in Arabic. From the content appears that it is revealed to. some one who had harbored some enmity towards the Faith. Bahá'u'lláh admonishes him to turn his face towards the message of God; also, He ends the Tablet with a long prayer and asks the addressee to offer this prayer so that he may be forgiven for all that he has done against the Faith. The name of the Tablet is derived from the opening phrase that is used at the beginning of all, except one, of the Súrahs of the Qur'án, which says: "In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate." Some of the main themes of this Tablet are:
  • The purpose of creation is the recognition of God (His Manifestation).

  • It is incumbent upon everyone, after attaining maturity, to search after truth without any trace of prejudice or enmity. Everyone in the world is following a different creed, but if they were to look with eye of justice and fairness they would recognize the truth of the Cause.

  • His holiness Christ was the target of countless calamities such that He ascended to the fourth heaven.

  • That which is the cause of betterment of the world and prosperity of its people has been explained by Him (Bahá'u'lláh) at all times even when He was under the most severe persecution in the Most Great Prison (Akká)

  • This Youth (Bahá'u'lláh) never entered any school, neither was he trained in sciences.

  • This is the great Day of God in which the secrets of hearts will become manifest to all.

Tablet to the Pope

by Koorosh Zaerpoor

During the last years of Edirne period and early years of Akká era, Bahá'u'lláh's public declaration of His station to the rulers and monarchs of the time attained its zenith. Never before, during any of the past dispensations, were the leaders of the time addressed with such formidable power and authority and with such magnitude and diversity of argument. As Guardian states: "Emperors, kings and princes, chancellors and ministers, the Pope himself, priests, monks and philosophers, the exponents of learning, parliamentarians and deputies, the rich ones of the earth, the followers of all religions, and the people of Baha — all are brought within the purview of the Author of these Messages, and receive, each according to their merits, the counsels and admonitions they deserve. No less amazing is the diversity of the subjects touched upon in these Tablets. The transcendent majesty and unity of an unknowable and unapproachable God is extolled, and the oneness of His Messengers proclaimed and emphasized. The uniqueness, the universality and potentialities of the Bahá'í Faith are stressed, and the purpose and character of the Bábí Revelation unfolded."

The most influential of all the leaders of the earth, especially in the religious spheres, at the time, was the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Pius IX, who had near a third of the world population under his authoritative rule and binding command. In his historic message to the Pope, Bahá'u'lláh, in unambiguous terms declares his station and his revelation. While the strength of Pope's earthly dominion is decaying, Bahá'u'lláh offers the New Gospel of hope in terms of Biblical terminologies and prophesies. Bahá'u'lláh, in the Tablet addressed to Pius IX makes extensive use of expressions such as "Return of The Son in the full Glory of the Father", "Return of the Lord of Lords", and refers to Himself as "The King of Revelation", "He Who has come down from Heaven", and "Him Who is His Most Great Name". He counsels the Pope not to allow his focus on appearance of the Holy Text bar him from understanding the inner meaning of the scripture and recognizing the reality of the Lord of the heavens and the earth.

The present discussion includes a brief review of the text of the Tablet, and the importance of this Tablet as it relates to the worldwide societal transformations of the time, with a focus on the character of the recipient of the Tablet, Pope Pius IX.