Lawh-i-Tibb (Tablet of Medicine)

By Stephen Lambden

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #22
London, England
August 27–29, 1999
(see list of papers from #22)

    The Arabic and Persian text of Bahá'u'lláh's 'Tablet of Medicine' (Lawh-i-Tibb) is to be dated to the early 'Akká period of his ministry (early 1870s?). It was addressed to a Bahá'í named Mírzá Muhammad Ridá'-yi Tabib-i Yazdí, a physician of the traditional school. The text was first published in Cairo in the early 1920s and is in two parts: [1] an Arabic part which largely revolves around the subject of medical treatment and [2] a Persian section which sets forth admonitions to Bahá'ís, designed to increase their level of wisdom, devotion and service.

    Only a few portions of the Lawh-i-Tibb have been translated into English, most notably in the Bahá'í magazine Star of the West 13/9 (December 1922; the translator of select lines from the Arabic is unnamed) and in John Esslemont's classic introductory work Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era (see chapter VII, 'Health and Healing'), which was first published in 1923. There is to date no authorized translation of the whole of the Lawh-i-Tibb though a number of provisional translations into various languages have been attempted.

    Certain of the directives in the opening Arabic section of the Lawh-i-Tibb are in line with modern health guidelines. Others, however, are in accordance with the ancient, time-honoured directives of traditional or Graeco-Arabic medicinal practice: importance, for example, being given to dietary practices consonant with the balancing of the four humours (blood, black bile, phlegm, and yellow bile) of the human constitution. The admonitions of the Lawh-i- Tibb echo those medical maxims and pieces of useful advice (fawa'id) found in a variety of Greek and Islamic literatures.

    Though the Qur'án contains little or no explicit medicine--neither the word doctor/physician nor medicine are mentioned therein--this is more than made up for in the Sunni and Shí'í hadith literatures. It is from within this Graeco-Islamic background that much of the Lawh-i-Tibb is best understood, for the recipient of the Tablet was a nineteenth-century physician of Yazd familiar with the terminology and methods of ancient medicine.

    While in his Kitáb-i-Aqdas and elsewhere Bahá'u'lláh advises the sick to consult competent physicians, in the Lawh-i-Tibb they are advised to utilize "established means" (bi'l-asbab). The importance of a spiritual dimension in medical practice is also highlighted in various ways. It is in the opening, Arabic section of the Lawh-i-Tibb that the well-known heating prayer is found, which commences, "Thy Name is my healing, 0 My God..." The opening section of the Lawh-i-Tibb also has it that true medicine is "the most noble of the sciences."

    The Persian section of the Lawh-i-Tibb opens with a salutation to the Bahá'í friends and focuses upon the importance of "two decrees": [1] the utilization of "wisdom" and "utterance" and [2] "steadfastness" in the Bahá'í Cause. The person who attains these "two" qualities is numbered among the exalted "dwellers within the City of Immortality" (madínah-yi baqá). At the close of the Persian section Bahá'u'lláh states that it is the guiding of souls to "the immortal Faith of God" which is the act of greatest importance in the sight of God.

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