Their representation in Bahá'í and other religious writings

By Moshe Sharon

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #104
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 9–12, 2011
(see list of papers from #104)

    In literature, whether religious or secular, valleys and other natural phenomena, such as clouds, rain, oceans, rivers and so on are used metaphorically. Valleys are topographical formations that are connected naturally with mountains. Valleys can only exist in mountainous territory. Thus, for instance, it would be difficult to communicate the idea of a valley to a Dutchman who has never left Holland. It is understandable, therefore, that we find references to valleys in literary creations and holy writings that were produced in mountainous countries and hilly regions. The Bible, born in the hilly regions of the Holy Land - in Judea, Samaria, and even other regions of the Middle East (see Ezekiel 37) is full of references to valleys as is the hadíth, the Islamic tradition, which refers to the mountains of Arabia, in particular to the Hijáz, the region of Mecca and Medina in western Arabia. It is not surprising to find the same references to valleys in many of the writings in Greece, India and Iran as well as other places in the East. In this discussion we shall remain in the Middle East especially in the territories which influenced the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

    In all of these writings, references to valleys are to the real physical feature of the gap between mountains even when the valley is used metaphorically. Thus when the seeker moves from valley to valley and in each he undergoes a spiritual experience it is still seen as a moving from one real valley to the other. This movement is a progressive movement which involves a great effort, because in order to reach the valley one has to cross a mountain or a chain of mountains. The valley which the traveler reaches represents the temporary end of a tiresome effort, a station of physical rest and tranquility before the beginning of the subsequent effort to reach the next station on his path of progress. The valley is the place where, under the shadows of the mountains around him or maybe on the bank of a river flowing through the valley, he can rest before commencing once again his journey to the following station, the following valley that brings him nearer, to the last valley, the final station of his voyage. This is how the journey was seen by Bahá'u'lláh who transformed the physical journey from valley to valley into a spiritual progress. One must keep in mind that, as with any metaphor, the real entity stands before the writer.

    Unlike Bahá'u'lláh, who transformed the valleys into a mystical site in the journey of the soul very much in accordance with the Súfí tradition, in the other three religions we find a variety of attitudes to valleys, from a description of the physical topographical features to complete metaphors. Whereas in the Greek religion the valleys were always concrete sites in which some events concerning both gods and humans were involved, a fact that turned the valley unto a holy site or at least to a place where holy institutions were erected.

    In this paper, the representations of valleys in their various appearances in the religious context will be presented and analyzed. It should be emphasized that the word valley (wádí in Arabic) does not appear in the Qur'án but figures abundantly in Islamic tradition, on the whole, only as a physical feature.

    As far as Bahá'u'lláh was concerned, he was always an integral part of the mountainous landscape of his youth in the district of Núr of Mazandrán to the south of the Caspian Sea to which the following quotation from the writings of `Abd al-Bahá' testifies:
    "O thou compatriot of `Abdu'l-Bahá! Although my birthplace is Tehran and I was an exile for continuous years in Iraq, banished for some time to the land of Rumelia, and imprisoned for forty years in `Akka, nevertheless my native country is Mazandarán, that is to say, in the environs of Miyánrúd in the district of Núr. For this reason I address thee as compatriot." (Muntakhabát-i- az Makatíb-i Hadrat-i `Abdu'l-Bahá, vol. 5, no. 1)
    Although `Abdu'l-Bahá refers to himself in this passage, his statement is valid to his father even more, since he remembered the landscape of Mazandarán as a small child whereas Bahá'u'lláh lived in it as a young man.

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