Ridwan Renewed:
The Semitic-Abrahamic religions and Babi-Baha'i concepts of Ridvan

By Stephen Lambden

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #109
Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 16–20, 2012
(see list of papers from #109)

    "And a Ridwan from God is supremely great" (Qur'an 9:72b)

    "O people of the earth! ... God promised both the male and female believers among the people of the covenant (ahl al-`ahd) what pertains to the [messianic] Dhikr (Remembrance) the most transcendent Paradises (al-jannat al-`aliyya) and blessed dwelling places (masakin tayyibat) in the Greatest Ridwan of God for such is indeed the Greatest Attainment (al-fawz al-akbar) in the Book of God (the Bab, from Surat al-Qist (I), `The Surah of the Balance', Qayyum al-asma' LXX [70]; cf. Q. 9:72).

    Meaning, among other things, contentment, pleasure, goodwill, delight, beatitude or (loosely) "Paradise", the ancient Semitic lexeme (word) from which the Arabic-Persian word Ridwan (or Ridvan) is derived is very old. It has several millennia of linguistic development. It is a word which has a complex and rich history of definitions and meanings going back several thousand years BCE. The term Ridwan or equivalent words go back well before the times of Muhammad, Jesus and Moses. A cognate or equivalent word can be found, for example, in the following Semitic languages: Ugaritic, Akkadian, Hebrew, and Aramaic or Syriac. In the Hebrew Bible the word רָצוֹן raṣon ( = Arabic Ridwan) occurs no less than fifty-six times.

    In the first biblical book of Genesis, in the blessing of Moses upon Joseph it is written, for example, "And the רָצוֹן (= "favor" = reson) of Him [the Deity] who dwelt in the bush (shokeni seneh)... [cf. Sinai] Let it come to the head of Joseph" (Gen. 33:15f). It will be seen that this text could be given some well-grounded theological senses meaningful to Baha'is living in the "latter days" and following the religion of the new Joseph (see further Isaiah 49:8; 61:2 cf. Luke 4:19).

    The Arabic Ridwan is derived from the trilateral root r-d-w/y. Eleven Arabic forms of this root occur seventy-three times in the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book communicated by the Prophet Muhammad just over two decades prior to his passing in 632 CE. The masculine noun Ridwan itself is found thirteen times in seven Surahs of the Qur'an (Q. 3:15 [13],162[156], 174 [168]; 5:2, 16[18]; 9:21, 73 109 [110]; 47:28 [30]; 48:29; 57: 20, 27; 59:8). In the Qur'an the phrase ridwan min Allah (Ridwan from God"; see the image above) is closely associated with images of Paradise; gardens, running streams and unchanging immortal life with celestial houri (maiden) type companions. The Islamic ridwan from God is linked with the glories of the life to come and the attendant blessings of the eschatological age. It is accorded the righteous who "follow the straight Path".

    In this presentation a few examples of the interpretation of Ridwan in the Qur'an commentaries or Tafsir and related literatures will be noted. It will be seen, for example, that Ridwan was thought in many Islamic sources to be the name of an exalted Archangel who is the Guardian of the Gateway to the Paradise of the next world. See the image above picturing Muhammad with Gabriel encountering Ridwan in the course of the Night Journey or Mi`raj (Ascent to heaven) as found in a 14th cent. CE illustrated manuscript of the Miraj-Nama ("Narrative of Heavenly Ascent") kept in the Topkapi Palace Library in Istanbul. Ridwan and other angelic figures have key roles in certain of the evolving complex of the Islamic Mi`raj (heavenly "Ascent") traditions.

    In the massive corpus of Arabic and Persian writings of the Bab (= "the Gate"; 1819-1850 CE), Ridwan terminology and concepts are quite common. Within his first major work, the Tafsir Surat Yusuf or Qayyum al-asma' (mid. 1844), we find thirteen phrases, sentences, or paragraphs containing the word ridwan, often in deep esoteric contexts. Here is another example (see also above) from the last chapter in the book, the Surat al-Mu'minin (The Surah of the Believers) (= Surah, CXI or 111)

    O thou believers! ... We established among you and among the blessed villages pure companions nigh this Bab that they should summon the people unto the Greatest Religion of God (din Allah al-akbar). They did not fear anything aside from God. These indeed were the companions of Ridwan as is recorded [written] in the Mother Book (umm al-kitab)."
    Among the little known and unstudied writings of the Bab is his fairly brief Arabic Surat al-Ridwan (The Surah of Ridwan) which is a kind of meditation on a few Qur'anic verses about the promise of Ridwan including, Q. 48:29 "The devout who seek the Grace from God (fadlan min Allah) and ridwanan . In this work the refrain, "So Blessed be the Name of thy Lord! No God is there except Him. Never indeed have eyes ever visioned their like!" is found about fifteen times. Aspects of this fascinating work will be presented.

    To date the ridwan concept has not been analyzed in any detail as it occurs in Babi-Baha'i sacred literatures. The numerous alwah or Tablets of Baha'u'llah which have for various reasons come to be entitled Lawh-i Ridvan or something similar, have not been collected together, dated, compared and analyzed. This paper will attempt to survey a few aspects of these matters within Baha'i sacred literatures.

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