The Báb's Response to a Question about Lawh-i-Mahfúz (Preserved Tablet)

By Stephen Lambden

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #46
Bosch Bahá'í School: California, USA
May 1–4, 2003
(see list of papers from #46)

    In this presentation a synopsis and partial translation will be given of the brief (2 page), relatively unknown Arabic treatise of the Báb on the meaning of al-lawh al-mahfuz (The Preserved Tablet). This along with some aspects of the Islamic and Shaykhí background.

    The phrase al-lawh al-mahfuz occurs once only in the Qur'an. It is at Qur'an 85: [21] 22 that we read, "Nay! It is a Glorious Qur'an (qur'an majid) in a Preserved Tablet (lawh mahfuz)". The idea of an archetypal, heavenly repository of the human destinies and the divine Word, a "Preserved Tablet" is pre-Islamic. It is early on found in pre-Christian Jewish sources such as the Book of Jubilees (2nd cent. BCE).

    Qur'an 85:22 or phrases within it have been much commented upon by Islamic, especially Sufi and Shaykhí writers, with the respect to its deep, esoteric meanings, cosmological implications and position as a celestial repository of the sacred books and locale of the mysteries of fate and human destiny.

    Dimensions of the "Preserved Tablet" have been much commented upon by Islamic mystics and philosophers. The influential mystic and exegete Ibn al-`Arabi d.638/1240) in his al-Futuhat al-makkiyya (Meccan Revelations) and other works, for example, associated the Lawh Mahfuz with the "Supreme Pen" (al-qalam al-a`la) and "The Universal Logos-Soul" (al-nafs al-kulliyya) as well as the beginning of existence (Futuhat 1:139;3:399, etc). His disciple, the Shi'ite Sufi `Abd al-Karim al-Jili (d. 832/1428) has a complex section on al-lawh al-mahfuz (Presreved Tablet) in section 42 of his seminal al-Insan al-Kamil... (The Perfect Man). There "Preserved Tablet" is seen to be indicative of the "Divine Light" (nur ilahi) which is "My Divine Reality" (haqqi) transfigured in the domain of human witness [testimony] (mashad) " before God's "creation" or "creatures" (al-Insan, 146.

    At the very outset the Báb's commentary identifies the Báb himself, the manifestation of God (mazhar-I ilahi), as being the Lawh Mahfuz (Preserved Tablet) as a "Most Great Tablet" (al-lawh al-akbar). This Báb's work also reflects the abovementioned Islamic esoteric traditions; as well, most notably, as the sometimes arcane Khutba al-tutunjiyya (The Sermon of the Gulf) ascribed to Imam `Alí (d.40/661), an oration which both the Báb and Báhá'u'lláh (like Shaykh Ahmadal-Ahsa'i and Sayyid Kazim Rashti), regarded very highly.

    It will also be shown in this paper that the influence of the qur'anic expression Lawh Mahfuz (Preserved Tablet) is evident throughout the Bábí-Bahá'í revelations. In, for example, Bahá'u'lláh's Surat al-Qadir (The Surah of the Omnipotent) addressed to "the Sun of My Name al-Qadir" around 1866, we read at the outset (after its prescript and basmalah),

    "Then Praised be unto He Who decreed the destined measures (muqadir) of all things in Mighty, Preserved Tablets (al-lwah`izz mahfuz)" (AQA 4:317-320).

this paper is not yet online